A sensory overload

What sets apart the old city of Hyderabad is its rich history, and food. Join Pranjali Pethe on a trail of aromas wafting from Telangana’s distinct delicacies

food

I am in Hyderabad, ambling through the streets of the Old City, in search of authentic Telangana food. I find numerous restaurants serving biryani to haleem but none that serve authentic Telangana cuisine. For a city that was ruled by the Nizams, finding authentic Telangana cuisine is a rare find but . So I stretch my radar a little further and travel in search of the authentic Telangana fare.

A chance meeting with Chef Satya of Food Exchange - Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre, gets my tastebuds and senses all excited about the nuances in the preparation of Telangana delicacies. As opposed to the biryani and haleem that the city is famous for, dishes like talakaya koora (mutton curry), boti koora (lamb gizzards cooked with Indian spices) and chepa vepudu (fish fry) are a must-try in this part of the country. Chef Satya, who has curated the menu suggests pacchi pulusu, an ochre coloured stew, much like the Indian rasam. Prepared with tamarind, onions, chillies and jaggery, the only difference is in the levels of tang and spice. This is followed by a round of chakodi, a crisp delicious ring-shaped snack prepared with rice and bengal gram batter, mokka jonna vada (deep fried balls of corn and jowar flour), and fish fry vepudu prepared by frying small pieces of fish marinated in ginger, chillies, lemon and spices.

As I relish the nuanced flavours of the cuisine, the chef warns me that people in the state take their food very seriously. “If you serve an Andhra dish for a Telangana food festival, you are sure to incur people’s wrath”, he says as he carefully lays out the platter for the main course.

For mains, I tuck into meka chap (sauteed lamb in red chili tomato onion gravy) and thotakura pappu (eggplant paired with amaranth leaves). The dish is made using very few ingredients and virtually no spices. Instead, tamarind and green chillies lend flavour to the dish. Gravies are called koora while pulusu is sour and runny. For instance, the chapa mamdekaya koora is a raw mango infused fish curry while a chicken pulusu or natu kodi pulusu is a sour gravy made with roasted country chicken spiced with chillies and asafoetida. I savour the curries with jonna roti, a bread made with millets. As opposed to rice that is widely eaten in Andhra Pradesh, breads are preferred in Telangana. Sajja rotte (barley), makka rotte (maize), jonna rotte (jowar) are some of the breads that are eaten in the state.

Telangana lies on the Deccan plateau. Thus, its topography dictates more millet-based breads.

For sweets, I dig into sweet semolina balls and polelu, a very thin flatbread with a filling of jaggery, chana dal, cardamom powder and ghee similar to the puran poli of Maharashtra.

Telangana vs Andhra cuisine

Over the course of the meal, I learn the subtle differences between the cuisine from the Telangana region and the erstwhile Andhra state. Andhra cuisine is spicier than Telangana cuisine. “You will not find generous quantities of Guntur red chilies in fiery gravies here,” explains Satya. It is landlocked and arid compared to coastal Andhra Pradesh. That explains why the emphasis is on meat. As per data from the central government’s Sample Registration System Baseline Survey 2014, Telangana tops the list for being the most non-vegetarian state in India. Almost 98.8 percent men and 98.6 percent women are non-vegetarians. In seafood, fish is preferred over prawns. Murrel fish is a widely used variety that has been declared as the state icon by the Telangana government.

Another basic difference is in preference for breakfast items. In Telangana you will find sarva pindi, a spicy pancake made of rice and bengal gram flour, for breakfast instead of pesarattu, a crepe made of green gram batter, that is a popular breakfast dish in Andhra homes. However, it’s not only the differences, there are many similarities between Andhra and Telangana cuisine like the Ugadi pachadi, a drink with coconut, tamarind , raw mango , jaggery that is prepared for the New Year or the garelu (dal vada) that is eaten with great gusto. But the truth is that Telangana cuisine has a rich and distinct culinary identity that hasn’t got its share of attention. A walk down its alleys followed by a local Telangana fare helps in exploring a different side of the city.

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