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I was in Hyderabad last week and smitten before I got off my taxi. The streets smelled of Haleem hysteria. Even the newer parts of town have been staked out with LED-fronted Pista House outlets, beckoning you until dawn.
I dropped into Sodabottleopenerwala to meet Mohit Balachandran (aka Chowder Singh) and as he was commandeering a Haleem sampling. Mohit is a legitimate street food guru, and I watched intently as he brought out the pièce de résistance. I was gobsmacked. Duck meat Haleem, with a smattering of duck fat. Imagine!
Next evening, I returned to an old carnival. Ashis Nayak (aka Foodrifter) led me through his signature trail around Charminar. Here’s a clipped itinerary:
• Haleem and Chai at Hotel Nayab
• Biryani at Shadab Hotel
• Black Mamba Fish Fry at Royal Fish Stall
• Kabab Parantha at Akbar fast food
• Haleem at Hotel Shahraan; distinctively malt-ey because the wheat is dry roasted
• Chai and assorted Hyderabadi biscuits at Café Nimrah
While I could barely walk after this, Ashis hardly broke a sweat. The idea is to partake a mouthful and continue onwards to Pista House and then Barkas, where Arabic Mandi and Khabsa triumph over Biryani. A lazier plan-of-action would be Haleem (with Chicken 65 and Jabaan) at Café 555 followed by Biryani, Shikhampur and more Haleem at Sarvi in Banjara Hills.
I’ll say it before you do, Chennai’s Iftar scene doesn’t hold a candle to Hyderabad. Though, with the right directions, you could squeeze out one good food-walk. Dr. Wasim Mohideen (aka Chennaifoodie) beaconed me through.
Start at the Triplicane Big Mosque (Wallajah Mosque) at the time of Iftar prayers. Step inside for a free serving of Nombu Kanji - a rice, lentil and meat gruel favoured in this region to break the fast. Walk towards (or maybe take an auto rickshaw) Amir Mahal, the residence of the titular Nawab of Arcot. Zam Bazaar Lassi Shop should stand out with a glowing degh of milk. Masala Paal is milk simmered in saffron and ‘stretched’ till frothy.
Next stop is Basha Halwawala who makes the news every Ramzan for his indulgent Dum-ka-Roast and Ande-ka-Halwa, Daccani Muslim Halwas that are rich enough to fly first class. Continue to MS Mahal, till you see a giant Haleem banner. Pista House now flies cooks, wheat and masala from Hyderabad so you don’t have to fly Haleem. Scooped out from a degh and garnished with brista and dhania, this the closest you’ll get to Hyderabadi Haleem in Chennai. I wouldn’t urge you for the Phal or Kababs in Triplicane. A better bet would be Mannady Street near Parrys Corner and Kabab Corner on Greams road.
Here are some other places that serve an agreeable Haleem in Chennai:
Café Mercara at ITC Grand Chola hosts an Iftar prix-fixe featuring Haleem, Biryani and Paya. ITC is prolific with Indian food, this is your best bet for a luxe Iftar experience.
Anise at Taj Coromandel also does an Iftar special buffet, featuring Middle-Eastern specialities. Sample a Haleem that’s closer to its blander Irani version.
Fisherman’s Fare (Anna Nagar and Egmore) was among the first places to start serving Haleem in Chennai and still draws a crowd. It’s a good idea to book yours beforehand. I’ve walked back empty handed at 7 PM.
Abid’s, Chetpet: Newest Haleem in town. Abid’s is run by Abid Sait (formerly with Fisherman’s fare) and is already generating buzz.
Hajeera’s Kitchen: The popular biryani takeaway has its fans for Haleem and Khichda (a lighter version). You can call ahead and pick yours up from Alwarpet or Velachery.