GI tag sought for a favourite snack

The simple looking Osmania biscuit has a royal legacy

GI tag sought for a favourite snack

Get down at Secunderabad station and walk straight to Alpha hotel, an eatery as old as the station itself. Order a single cup of Irani tea and a couple of Osmania biscuits. The combination is light but so filling that you might want to buy a pack of those fluffy salt biscuits for the road.

The routine repeats in all tea corners and Irani hotels located in every nook and corner of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

In bakeries too, Osmania biscuits are the fastest moving snack on the shelf. “Bun-maska”, “dil-pasand” and “samo­sa” may be the typical local Hyderabadi flavours, but Osmania biscuit is what Hyderabad is readily identified with. 

Osmania biscuits, delicious and crispy, they simply melt in the mouth. Its creat­ion is credited to dietitians of the Osmania General Hospital who came up with this high energy solution to supplement the diet of patients. 

The unique taste of the Osmania biscuit appealed to the Hyderabadi palate and within no time attendants and visit­ors were caught gobbling it down with relish much to the chagrin of the pati­e­nts and doctors. Little wonder that soon biscuits pilfered from the hospital pantry were being sold at cafes in the vicinity of Osmania General Hospital and with increasing popularity city bakers geared up to meet the demand. Ever since, successfully dunking an Osmania biscuit in a cup of Irani chai has been the ultima­te test of provenance for all who claim to be Hyderabadis.

Myrose café in Mallepally is one of the favourite places of Osmania lovers. “We deliver the biscuits to different parts of the state and sell about a tonne per day,” says Shamsuddin of Myrose. The simple-looking biscuit has a royal legacy. 

Nizam had a liking

The biscuit is named after Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam. “Nizam had a particular liking for biscuits made at Vicaji Hotel, a popular restaurant those days at Abids, so much that every evening a car from Nazari Bagh used to fetch the biscuits for him, but they were not called Osmania at that time,” says eminent historian Syed Akbar. 

The hotel management christened the Nizam’s favourite biscuit as “Osmania” and the name has stuck long after the Nizamian era is over. Bakers at Vicaji, made a few changes to suit Nizam’s taste. “Nizam preferred less salt and more sweetness in the biscuits so those changes were carried out, giving the taste for the present day, standardised Osmania,” Akbar says.

Most of the famous Hyderabad preparations such as Qubani ka meetha (apricot pudding), Double ka meetha (bread pudding) Phirni ( rice pudding), Kaddu Ki Kheer (gourd pudding) Sheer Qorma (a sweet liquid dish cooked with vermicelli and milk) and curries like Mirchi ka saalan (sweet and sour chili curry), Bagaare baigan (eggplant curry), Khatti dal (Lentil soup), Til ki chutney (sesame seed dip), Shahi tukda (milk-based sweet) and Kheema aaloo (ground meat and potato curry) have a prescribed style of cooking. 

“Slight variation could result in a dish that is in no way connected to the name,” says GV Subba Rao of Saipriya caterers, who offer almost all these Nizami style dishes for functions.According to an episode of Flavours of India: a travelogue on Hyderabad authentic recipe, Osmania biscuits require all purpose flour, butter at room temperature, vegetable shortening: 3 tablespoon, powdered sugar, salt, sweetened condensed milk, corn starch /corn flour, custard powder, instant dry milk powder or milk, cardamom. 

Extensively gifted

One can also order Osmania biscuits from Karachi Bakery, which makes one of the most famous cashew and coco­nut cookies in India. These are extensively gifted on birthdays. It is an ideal option for corporate gifting too. Also it is a very popular home and office party menu. It is the most preferred option for parents for their children’s birthday parties.

After the tasty and nutritious Haleem received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag now is the turn of the Osmania biscuit. A group of bakers is now pursuing the coveted appendage at the international level. The move is expected to give a major boost to the already robust market which is currently pegged at over Rs 100 crore. 

The euphoria generated by this succ­ess had triggered a spate of similar bids although the claim to a protected GI has inexplicably eluded the world renowned Hyderabadi biryani for the last few years.

Enthusiasts are confident of achieving GI tags for even such familiar fare as the Luqmi (a savory puff with minced meat stuffing; traditionally served as a starter at banquets in Hyderabad) and Nank­h­a­tai (a rich butter cookie). Also competing for distinction with the Osmania biscuit is the Dam ka Roat, a large crisp semolina biscuit which comes into prominence annually during Muharram.

Meanwhile, many express concern over a few dishes that are on verge of “extinction” such as Kulcha, a baked flat bread which used to be a staple at the Hyderabadi table. The Puran Puri, a rich ghee encrusted halva cake which has recently been taken off the menu by its most famous producer, John & Co of Abids.

Even though the political status of Hyderabad is at cross roads, the hard-working common man on the streets and the rich and famous equally dunk the Osmania biscuits in hot chai and gossip for hours about the status of the state, in the laid-back Hyderabadi style, with or without the GI tag. GI tag goes much beyond food stuff with numerous handicrafts, textiles and industrial products earning the coveted label.

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