Aleesa, beetroot, Chaush, chigoor, dalcha, Deccan, gongura, Hadramawt, haleem, harees, hilba, Hyderabad, keşkek, khichri, lemon, Levant, Malabar, mangoes, maraq, mudbi, Nizams, qahwa, shooli, tamarind, Yemen
THE EASTERN DECCAN OFFERS A UNIQUE STUDY in the engagement between local and arriving cultures. This plays out on the plate, as well as in language, fashion and architecture. In this region of the Deccan, West Asian meals based on chickpeas and meat are given a twist of the trademark pronounced sour of the East, through the addition of gongura, mango pickle, or lemon. An example of this would be shooli, the Iranian beetroot broth fairly popular in modern-day Iran, which is re articulated here with a sour assertion, courtesy the extract of grape.
One dish – haleem – deserves special mention. The restraint and balance of this slow cooked dish of meat, whole wheat and pulses, makes it the prime choice for the iftar break. But its pedigree and refinement also means it is a must have on the menu of wedding feasts and other important celebrations. Hyderabadi haleem today carries the GI (Geographical Indication) seal, which means that no haleem made in another city can claim to be Hyderabadi haleem. As to its origins, some say that it derived from from harees, a time honoured communal dish of the Levant. Versions of the same are equally well established in Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq and the Caucasus. The keşkek is the Greek counterpart of haleem/harees. What sets the Indian haleem apart from other versions, is the empahtic use of dal, sometimes as many as seven types of dal are rallied. However, in leaving out dal and turmeric, the Malabar version of haleem, known as Aleesa, bears greater similarity to the Arab prototype. In khichra – the version of the North Western Deccan – the meat is not blended into paste and stands out in form and texture within the dish.
In the Deccan, one Arab-origin community embodies the journey of preserving and sharing culinary heritage. The Chaush community of Hyderabad trace their origin to the Hadramaut – a region that corresponds to the present-day Yemen, which is historically known for its coffee, dates and interestingly, coconut. Though they may well have arrived before the Nizams, as a community, they came to prominence in their service as soldiers of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Historic dishes of note among this community include mudbi – seasoned meat cooked on special stones, and served with honey; and maraq – a broth of spiced meat. The haleem/harees prepared by the Chaush, like Aleesa of the Malabar coast, has a distinct sweetness. Strong qahwa (coffee) is the preferred drink here for conversation therapy.
Haleem is not the only meat-pulse coalition to emerge from the cultural dialogue in the Deccan. There’s the ever-popular dalcha. The sour power in this dish is contribute by the dauntless tamarind pulp (taken from around the pod). Tamarind or tamar-i-hind, meaning the Indian date, is in fact native to Africa, but has been cultivated in India for long enough to be considered native here. Uniquely, cuisine of the Eastern Deccan also makes use of the tender leaves of the tamarind, known locally as chigoor and used in preparations of dal and mutton.
The exchange is not only one way of course. Pickles, chutneys and souring agents led the processed flavour brigade from the Deccan, that crossed over to communities settling in from West Asia. Some of these flavours would travel over the seas as well. One such likely Deccan-inspired chutney is Yemen’s fenugreek-based chutney known as hilba which is used as dip for bread, on the lines of humus.
- Mediaeval Deccan History: Commemoration Volume by A. Rā Kulakarṇī
- Some Accounting for Taste (Food, Faith & Syncretism in the Deccan) by Gautam Pemmaraju (3quarksdaily.com)
- Little Hadhramout, In Hyderabad, India (hadhramouts.blogspot.in)