The reign of regionality: Anjum Anand

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
09 March, 2015

Anjum Anand Hyderabad

Photograph: Aparna Jayakumar

Having so many brilliant Indian recipes on the site, Cooked wanted to pick the brains of Anjum Anand, the author of Cooked titles such as Quick and Easy Indian, I Love Curry and Indian Vegetarian Feast about regional specialties, historic influences and what’s she’s discovered through her extensive travels across the country, from Amritsar to Hyderabad.

In this first part of our series, we joined her on a trip to Hyderabad, the fourth largest city in India and capital of Andhra Pradesh state, to learn about the local food, the centuries-old traces of Persian rule, how the tech boom is affecting the way people cook and why you shouldn’t leave without eating biryani.

Every region in India has different ingredients and a different culinary heritage, so the resulting food on the table can be quite different from neighbouring regions. I think as cooks, we learn from our collective cultural heritage. Hyderabad has had so many different rulers, each ousted by another. It’s almost like a microculture within a culture; an anthropological development of the cuisine. The cuisine has developed from the Moghul rulers (not 100% Persian) with different ones bringing their own inflections, and the local ingredients.

Traditional food in Andhra Pradesh is very vegetable-based, rich with spices and filled with lentils. But in this city, you’ll also find grilled meat with a Turkish influence, elegantly spiced rice reflecting Mughal heritage, and Indochinese dishes, such as the ubiquitous chicken 65, that are wildly popular with pretty much everyone. The coast also has fish.  But there’s a delicacy to the Mughal food here that you don’t find in other parts of India.

Biryani is the king of Indian party dishes. For me, the regional cooking technique was one of the most interesting things I discovered as the Persian influence is so apparent. Raw mutton on the bone (as opposed to pre-cooked meat, which is seen elsewhere) is layered with saffron-scented par-boiled rice with saffron added on top, and what happens from that point on is pure alchemy. Rice cooks really quickly, unlike mutton, but somehow each component is perfect. We were lucky enough to be invited to the house of Mehboob Alam Khan, a member of a noble family and an expert in Hyderabadi cuisine, who cooked his version; one of the most amazing meals I have ever eaten. But if you want to try the most famous in the city, head to Paradise Hotel.

The only other dish that you might recognise from Indian restaurant menus in the UK is korma; that’s a very Hyderabadi thing. But another dish that has a connection with British food is double ka meetha. In India, English bread is called “double ka roti” i.e a thick roti.  This is quite similar to a bread and butter pudding, except there are no eggs.  There are many different versions, but the version we saw was made with spices such as saffron and cardamom and thickened milk. 

The dish I was most excited to try was pathar ka gosht, or mutton cooked on a granite stone. If you go, the best place in the city to eat it is in an open air restaurant called Badai Miyan near Hussain Sagar lake; it was so good we ordered one portion and went back for more three times.  

The street food in this city is phenomenal. Go to the Charminar monument area for some of the best. Highlight was the lassi falooda, a yoghurt drink, with noodles that are soaked in rose syrup and sabza seeds, which are similar to chia. I do believe that if you make something day in day out for years, though, it’s always going to be something special.

A lot of tech companies have moved here, which has created more jobs for younger people – more specifically women – so there is less time for cooking. But I hope the traditions continue. Working in IT and at factories means people have more money to eat out and try different cuisines, which is good in its own way. I don’t know what the ramifications are for the food world, but I hope that the passion for regional Hyderabadi food stays strong.

The most surprising thing I learned about Indian food from Hyderabad? Less is more. The famous biryani is a really good example of this. On my return from the trip, it was definitely the dish I felt most compelled to cook myself and perfect, as in Northern India, there would be far more ginger and garlic. Having Punjabi roots, the temptation is to always add more heat and spice. But having eaten at Mr Alam’s celebration and talking to him about the dishes, I realised Moghal dishes are all about delicate but strong flavours.

 

That’s why I love to cook; the learning never stops.

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