Most foodies in the city would recommend a trip to far away Barkas to get your fill of authentic Arabic cuisine. But now, a lot of alternatives have cropped up around the city (in Tolichowki, Charminar, Banjara Hills) that serve delectable Arabic specialities like mandi, muttabaq, umm ali, hummus, khabsa laham etc. It does look like city folk have developed a taste for Arabian cusine.
Socialite Aamer Javeed often visits restaurants in Banjara hills with friends to relish the Arabic platter. He says, "I love eating samak al-faham (fish that looks white after cooking), hummus and khabsa laham. An Arabic meal can never be complete without the sweet delight, baklava, which is a flaky pastry filled with nuts. It just dissolves in the mouth."
The platter is an amalgamation of cuisines like Yemeni, Persian, Lebanese, Turkish and Saudi Arabia. The experience of sharing food served on one big thhaal (a huge round plate) is proving to be a big draw for the city folk. "I often go to Old City with friends and enjoy eating the Arabic dishes. I am fond of the flavoured rice with less spices," says city based artist Aziz.
Restaurants in Towlichowki have an exotic Arabian ambience with long curtains, woven carpets laid on the floor and with masnads (bolsters) laid around low tables.The mandi is a huge favourite with the crowds. Served as a mound of rice with chunks of meat (chicken mutton fish) on the thhaal, it has many variants -khabsa laham, majboos (tomatoes are added) and maghluba (more nuts and a bit spicy). The rice is flavoured with saffron and hence, is yellow in colour. It is sprinkled with fried raisins, nuts and fried onion ringlets. A boiled egg sits atop it, sprinkled with finely chopped coriander and mint leaves. "Many Hyderabadis like us want a break from the spicy biryani and these dishes stand out because of their flavours. My Sunday special is steaming hot majboos, another variety of mandi, which has a mild flavour.I used to go to Barkas a lot, but thankfully, we have so many more options these days," says Neidhi, an MNC employee. She loves eating basbousa, a kind of semolina halwa cooked with orange flower water and sugar syrup.
City-based food blogger and critic Sankalp, sums it up saying, "Arabian food is cooked on slow wood fire that gives it the special flavour. My favourite is muttabaq, a kind of patties filled with minced meat, scrambled eggs and herbs. Another favourite of mine is khabsa."
Cups of suleimani chai (decoction of tea served with a dash of lemon) are a must have after a hearty Arabian meal.
MADE IN TANDOOR
A pit is dug in the ground and its inside walls are covered with clay. Logwoods are fired. A pot containing water, rice and spices for mandi is kept on these logs. Atop the vessel, a wire mesh is kept on which big pieces of meat are placed and is left to cook. "The taste of meat cooked in this way has flavour of smoke and gets cooked tenderly. When its fat drips on the rice the final flavour is unique," shares Mohammed Aslam, a cook at an eatery in Tolichowki.
HOW ARABIAN FOOD REACHED HYDERABAD
Hyderabad has an old association with the Arabs. Way back in 13th century, many Yemenis were part of Bahmani army. After the dynasty's fall, these soldiers joined the Maratha army. When the Marathas were defeated by the British, these Yemeni soldiers were sent to Hyderabad to serve the Nizam. And the rest as they say is history.