Hyderabad is a city with a regal past, home to the Nizams dynasty and to some of India’s most impressive architecture. Mosques, forts, temples and one of the largest man-made lakes in India await to be visited by tourists from all over India and the world. Thought you cannot truly understand Hyderabad until you have tasted its local cuisine. That’s why ITC Kakatiya, part of Luxury Collection, offer a bespoke food tour of the city (known as Food Sherpa Trail) to their guests.
Food Sherpa Trail
Laad Bazaar (or Choodi Bazaar) was quiet on Sunday morning as we wandered around the empty streets leading to the imposing Charminar Mosque, a landmark of Hyderabad with its four arches and minarets from the 16th century.
Most of the shops, which I am sure are bursting with people on a week day, had their colourful shutters down. During the week, the bazaar is the place to go for bangles, colourful Indian bracelets made of metal or gold which women wear stacked up on their forearms, often at ceremonies such as weddings.
I was not at Laad Bazaar looking for jewellery. I was on a food tour of the old town with Aamer Jamal, the Senior Sous Chef of ITC Kakatiya Hotel.
Guided by Chef Jamal, my husband and I were ready to get an introduction into Hyderabadi cuisine and to try biryani, probably the most famous local dish to taste here.
Nimrah Cafe & Bakery
The biryani had to wait. Our tour started with chai and biscuits at Nimrah, a traditional café and bakery selling freshly baked Karachi and Osmania biscuits.
The shop faces the streets and doesn’t offer a lot of space for sitting down. The locals don’t mind, they mostly drank the tea while standing in front of the café. We stood around a table outside, under an umbrella to cover from the sun, waiting for our hot teas to be served.
Even though I am a coffee lover, I cannot resist Indian chai – it should be strong, spiced, milky and sweet. I drink several cups a day when I’m in India. I let you in on a secret: chai is even better when you dip biscuits in it!
We shared a selection of biscuits and a slice of sweet bread that was filled with nuts and spices. I don’t remember the name, but I loved the cake, especially because it reminded me of Gubana, a Christmas dessert from my mother’s hometown of Trieste.
Some of the biscuits were sweet and salty, buttery, nutty and with a nice crunch, a sign that they were freshly made. We drank the tea, while Chef Jamal gave us an introduction into local cuisine from Telangana state.
Our next stop was Chowmahalla Palace, a Unesco-protected Heritage Site was the official residence of the Nizams, the rulers of the Asaf Jah dynasty who governed Hyderabad for two centuries from 1724.
The marble hall of the palace is a stunning example of Islamic India architecture and one of the highlights of my visit to Hyderabad.
After a tour of the museum, where we learnt more about the Nizams, I was ready to get some lunch. We hopped in our private car with driver to go to Hotel Shadab, one of the top restaurants that biryani lovers must try in Hyderabad.
Shabad is located in the old town and about 15 minutes’ walk from Charminar Mosque. We had a table waiting for us upstairs in the main dining room (the below photo is of the ground floor, which I think is for quick eats). There was quite a long wait for people without a reservation, so try to book ahead if you can.
At Shabad you can sample the most authentic Hyderabadi Biryani as well as delicious curries, kebabs and breads.
Chef Jamel ordered a selection of main courses: mutton malai (a typical Mughal dish), chicken banjara kebab, tala hua gosht (Hyderabady fry mutton). We ordered some bread to go with the curries: roomali roti (thin flatbread), plain naan and butter naan. All were equally tasty.
The highlight of the meal was the Chicken Dum Biryani. Chef Jamel explained to us the difference between pulau and biryani. In the first dish, rice rice and meat or vegetables are cooked separately first, then mixed and cooked together with water. In the case of biryani, rice and meat are cooked in layers in a pot and cooked (dum) on low heat. That’s why you will only see the rice on the top, until you stir the biryani to reveal the meat or vegetables hidden underneath.
By this point we were quite full and didn’t think we could find space for anything else… but of course we did! Chef Jamal ordered Kubani ka Meetha, a dessert of stewed apricots, sugar and cream, as he said our stomachs needed something sweet after all the heavy and spicy meal.
After lunch we drove to an area of the old town lined up with food shops and market stalls. Chef Jamal introduced us to some of the most popular local ingredients, such as almonds and mishri (rock sugar), which are often given as gifts.
We also learnt how sevaiyyan (or vermicelli) are made using maida, water, a pinch of salt and a lot of patience. The dough is stretched by hand until it is as thin as hair and then it is hung to dry.
Vermicelli are cooked in a traditional Hyderabadi pudding called Sheer Korma, made with milk, ghee, sugar, nuts and dates.
Famous Ice Cream
We had two more food tastings to go before the end of our Food Sherpa Trail and one of them was the Famous Ice Cream shop. Yes, that’s the real name!
Famous Ice Cream at Mozamjahi Market started operations about 50 years ago and remains the most popular outlet to buy ice cream in Hyderabad. The ice cream is hand-churned from cream, fresh fruit and fruit pulp. We tired the pistachio kulfi, one of my all-time favourite Indian desserts!
Not far from the ice cream parlour, is Hameedi Confectioners, one of oldest and most popular sweet shops in Hyderabad and a personal favourite of the Nizam!
Among other sweets, you will find halwa, a dense sugar syrup dessert that is typical of the Middle East (I first tasted it in Dubai and at a Tel Aviv food market).
The most famous kind to try at Hameedi is Badam Halwa (or almond halwa) prepared using the finest of almonds infused with saffron and mixed with pure desi ghee and sugar.
On our way back to the hotel, we made a quick stop at an old bakery to see the making of naan ki roti in an underground tandoor, (a clay oven).
One man sat on the floor shaping the dough, another positioned it on a wet pillow used to stick the dough to the oven walls, while a third man was in charge of the baking. Next door in the adjacent room, a fourth man packaged the breads in plastic bags to be delivered around town.
Through this food tour of Old Town Hyderabad, not only I got a taste of the local cuisine, but I also got an insight into the culture and lifestyle of this city. Chef Jamal’s knowledge of the history of Hyderabad (of India in general), its food and recipes is incredible. We learnt so much from him in just five hours.
This was my second experience the Food Sherpa Trail (the first was an Agra food tour with ITC Mughal). The service is offered by ITC in each of the Indian cities where their hotels are located. The food tours are always led by one of their own chefs and personalised to meet the guest’s interests and requests.
ITC Kakatiya is situated at the commercial centre of Hyderabad, overlooking the scenic Hussain Sagar Lake. It comprises of 188 exquisite rooms and suites, 3 restaurants, a full-service spa and an outdoor pool.
Disclaimer: I was invited on the tour by ITC Hotels. All opinions are my own.