Winter is the perfect time to advocate chicken soup as soul food, but that’s de rigueur, so having had a breakfast experience most pleasant in the week gone by, I take the opportunity to endorse Haleem. A bowlful of goodness, with flavours pirouetting, lingering and dancing just a little more with every mouthful, so much so that in the end there’s a fair chance of you standing and clapping in glee.
In appearance what seems like a humble, unassuming meat gumbo or chowder, if you will, meandered to its first moorings in Hyderabad through the Arabs. Saif Nawaz Jung Bahadur, an Arab chief of court of the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan is the acknowledged ambassador of Haleem. Patronised by Hyderabad’s royal Nizams, Haleem today finds its identity bound to the region that has embraced it wholeheartedly impressing upon it some of its own character and flavour.
Cooked over a wood fired cauldron for hours on end with the unrelenting attention it demands, Haleem is an olio of meat, ground wheat and lentils, flavoured with the choicest Indian spices. A muslin-wrapped bouquet garni, colloquially referred to as the Potli masala adds the definitive accent to this dish.
You can tell a good Haleem by its texture, the blend of spices, the quality of ingredients that go into the elaborate preparation, the aroma and presentation. But the texture, that is the aspect of prime importance. Traditionally, the Ghotni - a wooden ladle like apparatus was indispensable in the preparation of Haleem. It played a significant part, blending all ingredients together to a desirable consistency.
Garnished with clarified butter, lime wedges, coriander leaves, juliennes of ginger and fried onions, Haleem is conventionally served on festive occasions. It is also accorded the sanctity of being the first meal of the day for those observing the fasts during the holy month of Ramadan.
To me, the start of every new day is special, so is the first, most important meal of the day, to which I’ve always attached great importance. Haleem does complete justice to breakfast.
It’s flavoursome, nutritious, high in calories yet a rich source of fibre and protein. These are the very aspects working in its favour, making Haleem popular across boundaries, be it Kolkata, Lucknow or largely uncharted, closely guarded foodie-nooks of the Capital city. Even so, Hyderabad and the Haleem remain subliminally connected. It is impossible to draw attention to one without a thought to the other. The Hyderabadi version of Haleem, is recognised for its exacting standards of perfection and GI (geographical indication) certification. Be that as it may, one can only be grateful for generous helpings of Haleem even when far, far away from the City of Pearls.
I’ve been informed by well-meaning entrepreneurial enthusiasts that Haleem can now be ordered via courier! Even at the cost of coming across as old school, I’d be happier with the mailman bringing me mail. If like me, you find joy in the experience of the food, without a second thought, head to the Daawat-e-Haleem atITC Windsor, Bengaluru from the 11th to 20th January 2013 to sample some of the best versions of Haleem. You can always thank me later!