Haleem. It means Patience. And rightly so. Food that takes longer than eight hours to cook must be great in taste. That’s what I had thought when I first heard of Haleem in Hyderabad. Being a foodie and a Calcuttan, I should have heard of it earlier, but I hadn’t because middle class folks like us residing in Calcutta and suburbs didn’t indulge into niche Ramadan delicacies. Secondly, Haleem is way more popular and available in Hyderabad than our bhaat-maachh loving Calcutta. I have tried Haleem and gradually have become a kind of connoisseur for the wholesome dish. If you still haven’t tasted this divine food, here are a few reasons why you should.
1. History – Did you know Haleem dated back to 10th century when it was called Harisah in the Arabian lands? According to historians, the recipe for Harisah has been found dated 10th century and it was a popular dish among the Arabs. It was introduced to the Hyderabadi Nizam’s soldiers by the Arabs and later got modified into Haleem.
2. Heritage – Harisah or Harees was sold throughout the year as a snack in the bazaars, in some faraway land like a fairy tale. Today it is reduced to being available just in the month of Ramadan in India and Pakistan. The rarity of the dish has made it more popular and exotic, with people like me waiting all the year just for a taste of Haleem in the holy month of Ramadan. While Hyderabad has conserved and enriched the authenticity of Haleem, other cities have created their own runny versions, a few very weird at that too.
3. Nutrition – Haleem is a one pot meal that will leave you well satiated not just in taste but also in health. It is made of broken wheat, a variety of lentils, warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and your choice of meat (chicken, mutton, lamb, beef). It has everything that is required by the human body after a day long fast. The carbs give you energy while the protein makes you stronger.
4. Taste – I’ve learned over the years that Haleem is an acquired taste. While Calcutta loves its Haleem in a longish gravy with chunks of meat, Hyderabad uses the recipe of grinding everything into a paste. If you have yourself addicted to the thick paste-like Hyderabadi Haleem, you won’t enjoy the runny gravy of Calcutta Haleem. The meat and lentils are cooked separately in Hyderabadi Haleem, the meat pieces and gravy are blended with the lentils, wheat and spices to make a thick paste-like gravy. There’s a fuller and richer version of Irani Haleem that uses whole spices, mildly roasted for the flavour and a generous dollop of ghee and fried onions as garnish. Sprinkle some mint leaves and lime juice, and you’re ready for a heavenly treat.
5. Patience – Haleem takes about 8-12 hours to cook and justifies its etymology. Hours of patience turn raw meat, lentils and spices into a bowl of broth worth a day’s fast. The fact that it is available only for a month in a year, also tests your patience and yearning for the dish. You have to wait for it to fulfil your hunger and culinary desires. Search for a proper Haleem has taken me places and I’m still waiting for one that can beat the Irani Haleem at Sarvi Restaurants, Hyderabad.
I’d recommend Haleem to anyone who hasn’t ever tried it. Begin with the Hyderabadi ones if you can, because they are surely the best in India. Must try ones in Hyderabad – Sarvi Restaurants, Pista House, Shah Ghouse.
Pune has very few places that offer Haleem – A-1 Biriyani House in Hinjewadi is again the best among them. But they serve only Chicken Haleem, which tastes good too.
Calcutta has mostly its own version of Haleem, the runny gravy ones with chunks of meat in them. If you still want to try, go for Shiraz Restaurants, Park Circus, Aliyah and Aminia near Nakhoda Masjid. For Hyderabadi Haleem, try Afza in Beckbagan and Khowab in Ajoynagar.
Do let me know which Haleem you tried and how you liked it. Ramadan Kareem. Eid Mubarak.