The auspicious month of Ramzan for Muslims is about prayers, fasting, sacrifice, love for fellow human beings be it friends and family or those in need, and it is about giving and sharing. The devout get up quite early in the morning to have food and offer their prayers marking the beginning of the fast for the day, and it is towards Iftar time after they break the fast that they get together with family and the dastar is filled with food, fruits and dates of course for nourishment. Over the years like everything else, even Ramzan leads itself to be that time of the year when economics of it all makes it a commercial affair with retail and food industry upping their ante to offer their best. But, in Hyderabadi homes it more or less remains an intimate affair, with a lot of sharing of food with neighbours and friends and then there are Iftar parties where invitations are extended to near and dear ones from all religions. Like every other festival, the month of Ramzan too in the city of Nizams is celebration of friendship and the syncretic culture popularly known as the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb.

For long Hyderabadis have celebrated their festivals together. Late legendary musician Pandit Jasraj who hails from this city, had shared his childhood memories of celebrating Holi when all that mattered was enjoying and revelling in the spirit where all friends and neighbours would participate irrespective of religion.

Ramzan too, which is infact more about fasting rather than feasting –involves sharing of food – with friends joining the Iftar, food being sent out to neighbours in beautiful ceramic bowls covered in embroidered lace napkins, and fruits and food being distributed to the poor and needy at the mosques, orphanages and hospitals etc.

This year the NGO SAFA that works towards empowering women and founded Luqma the cloud kitchen has curated an Iftar platter with fresh fruits, and home style kebabs, and Dahi Vadas that could be ordered for homes or in bulk to distribute to the needy. Rubeena, the director shares that at SAFA they have had clients from abroad ordering Iftar meal boxes that they not just cook and pack, but also take the responsibility of distributing them as per clients’ requirement. This they do in the spirit of the season thanks to their strong volunteer network. In addition to the simple meal box, they also have on the menu Lukmi, Haleem, the quintessentially Hyderabadi desserts like Gil-e-firdous and Double Ka Meetha in addition to their regular Hyderabadi menu.

Be it Luqma by SAFA or any other restaurant or hotel offering Hyderabadi Iftar dishes on their menu – there are several of them – no one can do away with Haleem. Even though this Arab dish is an import, originally called Harees – it is the Hyderabadi style of cooking using spices and lentils, that got Haleem the GI tag. Pista House, Nayab, Hotel Golkonda, Hyderabad Marriott, Subhan, Bouganvilla – from five stars to the road side eateries, from fine dining to the multicuisine restaurants – Haleem is a regular everywhere especially if they say they serve Ramzan special menu. The popularity peaks during the season even though now a days, it is available at many places throughout the year.

The buzz on the streets is palpable days before the arrival of Ramzan when roadside eateries are getting their battis (mud and brick ovens) ready. Haleem began to be made in Hyderabad during the time of the sixth Nizam according to history. It came via the Mughals travelling all the way from Iran & Afghanistan and Delhi and Lucknow before reaching the city of Nizams. Here the local spices add a unique flavour induced into the dish and the cooking method includes using broken wheat and meat.

When the meat is slow cooked over eight hours in the mud oven over fire, with the meat mashed and beaten into the dish using special wooden ladles, there is a character and soul added to the dish not to mention the flavour that increases manifold from cooking over fire. Making this wholesome dish is no rocket science and Hyderabadis have aced it. So much so that during lockdown the food lovers have made it at home in their pressure cookers. But, now its back to business and home delivery is also one of the chosen modes to order Haleem.

For commercial purposes Haleem is the most advertised and to give the tasty devil its due, it is much devoured too. The meat dish loaded with ghee, roasted nuts and fried onion served hot from the Bhatti from your favourite outlet is matchless in taste. In terms of revenue roughly over rupees 800 crore worth of Haleem is sold in Hyderabad. While the dish is not indigenous it still is even preferred by those who are fasting for its nutritional value.

However, Hyderabadi Iftar dastar isn’t limited to Haleem. It is just an indulgence that became a habit. Traditionally Hyderabadi specialities like Dahi Bade made using lentils unlike the Northern version, the typical Hyderabadi kebabs – the shamis, shikampurs, the kadi and dalcha, the khichdi and the Kushka – simple home cooked food that’s very local and sometimes only found in homes is what the Iftar meal all about. However over time the Iftars have become elaborate and with more and more people ordering food online – and with home chefs and cloud kitchens too being preferred for Hyderabadi khana – many of them are offering not just Iftar ka khana but also food that can be delivered in the wee hours of the morning.

During Ramzan, which also turns out to be one of the best shopping seasons in Hyderabad, the old city, especially Lad Bazaar and the surrounding areas that are full of colours on a normal day, come alive even more with people, hawkers, stores, food stalls and food lovers jostling for space and not complaining as they are obviously enjoying it all. From Chai and Osmania biscuits, to the chicken fry and paratha, the luqmis, samosas, pathar ka gosht and kebabs, paya and sheermal, and the desserts beyond the Qubani – including the amazingly fresh and addictive Shahdud Malai (Mulberry & Cream) the Faloodas, lassis – are all there waiting to be savoured. Across the city several outlets remain open till late hours serving food to those who are fasting and also others who want to soak in the vibe and enjoy good food.

Today, one of the unifying factors of this historic city that UNESCO has recognised for its culinary heritage, is – food indeed. And, despite all the madness and economics involved, Ramzan in Hyderabad will continue to be about the spirit of helping one another, of being together and of feeding the needy in addition to celebrating culture and traditions.

Haleem dish curated by Chef Kamran Khan from the Hyderabad Marriott Hotel & Convention Centre is a rich combination of barley, lentils, meat, spices and herbs.

2 kg mutton or beef, boneless, 1 lit Lamb stock, 1 cup Chana dal, 1 cup moong dal, 1 cup urad dal, 1 cup red masoor dal, 1 cup barley, 1 cup wheat, 100 gm mint, 100 gm fresh coriander, 50 gm green chili, 2 large onions, sliced, 1 tablespoon ginger paste, 1 tablespoon garlic paste, 1 tablespoon red chili powder, ½ tablespoon turmeric powder, 1 tablespoon cumin powder, 2 tablespoon coriander powder, 1 tablespoon garam masala powder, 1 tablespoon black pepper powder, Whole spices few, Salt to taste, Ghee for cooking.

Clean the meat and cut it into small pieces. Soak the Chana dal, moong dal, red masoor, urad dal, barley, and wheat in water for 3-4 hours. Make a paste of mint, coriander and green chili. Take a thick preheated bottom lagan add ghee along with whole spices. When the spices get crackled add sliced onion and then sauté then add all above powder spices and sauté again and then add lamb along with the mint/coriander and green chili paste. Add lamb stock then cook until the meat is tender and the lentils and grains have cooked thoroughly. Then use a hand blender or a wooden spoon to mash everything together until it becomes a smooth paste. If the mixture is too thick, add some water to thin it out. Add the Haleem mixture to the pot and cook on low heat for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. This will help the flavors to develop and the consistency to thicken. Serve hot, garnished with fried onions, chopped coriander leaves, and lemon wedges. Enjoy your delicious Hyderabadi Haleem!