The struggle for separate Telangana was not just about jobs and water. It was also about its culture, its history, its art, and its food. Food in Hyderabad meant biryani, haleem, tomato cut, khichidi khatta and a host of other delicacies. But it was during the long struggle for the State that the food from the region got a platform. One of the big events during the struggle was a Telangana Food Festival hosted in March 2007 that jolted the palate of Hyderabad — Vanta varpu where food cooked publicly was also part of the agitation.
Nine years later, food from Telangana is mainstream. But drive out of Hyderabad and you get a full range of food from Telangana that is a smorgasbord of flavours, textures, and presentation that don’t fit a label. One of the earthy delights is dining with local people. In Siddipet, fresh toddy is served with spicy chicken curry. There is an option to have Susheela. Sush what, you ask? A unique dish enjoyed at kallu compounds (toddy joints), Susheela is nothing but puffed rice (muri/murmura), served with chicken curry. Eating rice is too routine and to add a crunch to the bite while sipping toddy, locals replace it with puffed rice. This Susheela is not to be confused with the traditional Maharashtrian Susheela, also made with puffed rice.
Then there’s toddy. Locally known as kallu, it is the fresh sap from palm trees with a slight intoxicating effect. It is a popular drink during summer. When consumed within a few hours of being tapped, it is sweet. In Telangana, drinking toddy in summer is like a tradition. In many houses that procure the drink, guests are usually offered toddy and not tea. Chicken cooked with toddy called kallu chicken is must-have dish for visitors and gourmands to the region.
When chef Garima Arora, the first Indian female chef to be awarded a Michelin star, was in Telangana just before the COVID-19 lockdown, she said she was surprised at the range of indigenous variety and the gastronomic uniqueness.
Chef Sudhakar Rao, director/principal of Culinary Academy of India (affiliated to Osmania University) says he felt the need to document the cuisine of Telangana whose uniqueness had never been discussed commercially. “Just like the way food varies from home to home, the style of cooking varies from region to region. Food of Telangana is sans the need for purees, fine pastes and all that jazz. It won’t be wrong to say that Telangana cuisine follows the farm-to-table concept as a norm,” the chef points out.
“That is why, in many Telangana homes, the use of seasonal greens with lentils like yellow dal and Bengal gram is common,” he adds.
Must-try Telangana dishes
Golichina Mamsam: A fried mutton dish that is as fiery as it gets. This is, however, not deep-fried. The dish is made by allowing lamb meat-on-the-bone cook in its own juices along with the usual dry spices. What makes it fiery is the use of green chillies and red chilli powder. This is usually had with rice or roti. A glass of majjiga to wash down the fieriness is ideal.
Sarva pindi and Sakinalu:Sarva pindi is a popular pancake-like preparation made with rice flour and chana dal, along with ginger-garlic paste, chillies and curry leaves. It is a breakfast staple in rural areas. Sakinalu, on the other hand, is a dry snack made of rice flour, carom and sesame seeds. It is similar to muruku but not as crunchy.
Pachhi pulusu: It is said that once you have pachhi pulusu, you have tasted a bit of Telangana cuisine. And once you make pachhi pulusu at home, you become a ‘local’. Pachhi pulusu is like rasam, where nothing is cooked, except the tempering that goes into it. It is made from runny tamarind extract seasoned with salt, lots of green chilies, and finely chopped onions. It is a must-have during summer in many homes.
Bagara annam: This one is much like masala rice. It is a slightly spicy pulao version that is served with curries like Ooru kodi koora (spicy chicken curry), dalcha (veg and non-veg), chammagadda pulusu, vankaya tomato koora (brinjal tomato curry)
Meat specialities: Telangana non-veg dishes that should be tried are punti kura maamsam (gongura leaf mutton curry) soya koora karjam (liver curry with dil leaves) Anakapur kodi koora (chicken curry made with Ankapur black chicken), chickudukaya maamsam (mutton made with broad bean seeds) and keema muttila koora (keema balls curry). Chef Sudhakar says “most of these curries are fiery hot and flavourful”.