For almost all of Hyderabad, Haleem is synonymous to Ramzan. Massive cauldrons on brick kilns outside restaurants and people lining up for their share, which sells for Rs 40-100 per plate, is a common sight. Each day of the holy month, the city consumes over 6,000 goats, over 25,000 people are directly employed in making and selling the delicacy (not counting the people who are indirectly involved for logistics etc.) and the business per day is over Rs 4 crore (Rs 120 crore) in Hyderabad alone.
The locals are possessive about this prized dish such that they have their own Haleem Makers’ Association of Hyderabad, which in 2010-filed for a tag Geographical Indicator Registry of India office in Chennai to check the misuse of the name ‘Hyderabadi Haleem’.
The tag was granted in September 2010, which meant that Haleem makers outside Hyderabad cannot sell their product as Hyderabadi Haleem. It also means that the makers within the city can claim the tag only if they use bacteria-free goat meat, use 10 portions of meat for every four portions of wheat, use ghee that has been certified as 100 per cent pure by a lab, cook it for 12 hours in a copper vessel over wood fire and add no trans-fat, colours or preservatives.
We decided to figure what the fuss was all about, and ordered for ‘Hyderabadi Haleem’ from Pista House, Hyderabad’s largest seller of this dish, with over 300 outlets and the company that transformed a dish to a brand by exporting it to Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Bengaluru, the United States,Europe and West Asia.
Seated in our office one Thursday evening, we placed an order for a kilogram of Haleem from the Pista House website, and received an order confirmation. We discovered that our order was a kg of the one tone of Haleem that is prepared daily, painstakingly, by over 500 cooks in 100 cauldrons in multiple kitchens of Pista House across Hyderabad.
Cooking of the Haleem at Pista House begins at 3 am everyday, when the mutton is cooked with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and caraway seeds along with ground wheat, lentils and lots of ghee, the proportions for which are a closely guarded family secret.
The delights of slow cooking
After 12 hours of intense cooking, our package was delivered on the first flight to Mumbai after 1 pm, and reached our office in hours. It arrived in a silver packet that was neatly stuffed in a small red colour, vacuum-sealed plastic bucket (see photos).
When we decided to heat the Haleem, we noticed how our hands coated with pure ghee as we attempted to remove it from the packet. The aroma of the Haleem ensured everyone around was salivating, and the pan, after it was removed of its contents, had enough left over ghee to pan-fry at least half akilo of mutton.
Looking at the quantity, initially, we were sure it would feed two people with a decent appetite. But after four or five quick bites from our plates, which had another thick layer of ghee floating around, we were stuffed. This was food fit for the gods. The Haleem was sticky and elastic in texture, beautifully spiced and it slid down our throats. It was an exhibition of the forgotten art of slow cooking; such that we contemplated donating our stove, discontinuing our gas connection, and installing a kiln instead!
Last year, Pista House started a kitchen in Bangalore, food from which was sold from 10 outlets in the city. We’ve heard that a similar kitchen might open in Mumbai, in 2013. Until then, opt for the fly-by option.