Way past Hyderabad's landmarks, Charminar and Mecca Masjid, lies one of the city's most well- known restaurants. The (somewhat luridly painted) Pista House, adorned with swathes of green and candy stripes of yellow and red, serves one of India's most famous Muslim dishes - haleem. The dish was not always an Eid or Ramzan dish. K T Achaya, in his seminal book, The Story of Our Food, writes about how the Mughals introduced it to India. Akbar, who was almost vegetarian according to the Ain-i-Akbari written by one of his courtier Abu Fazl, did sometimes partake of meat dishes such as haleem and biryani.
In Hyderabad, haleem started out as a nutritious dish for soldiers in the cantonment area near Charminar and was popularised by Sultan Saif Nawaz Jung, a nobleman in the Nizami court. It was only much later that it became a popular Ramzan dish. Suffused with garam masala, it is a much spicier version than its Lucknowi cousin.
(Also Read: 10 Best Iftar Snacks Recipes for Ramadan)
The Haleem Of Pista House
The popular recipe of Pista House, haleem came about by a lot of trial and errors. The owner, Mohammed Abdul Majeed, who established the restaurant in 1997 but introduced haleem only in 2002, tinkered around with the recipe until it became richer and smoother.
Into his haleem goes finely-pounded wheat, minced meat, dals (urad, chana and toor), spices, dry fruits, and plenty of ghee. It is then cooked for 12 hours in a degh (cauldron) over firewood, stirred continuously with an enormous wooden mallet (ghotni) until it is a thick, sludgy, highly nutritious porridge, making it perhaps one of the most nourishing ways to break the iftar fast.
Majeed's haleem soon became the gold standard for Hyderabadi haleem. In 2010, it received the GI tag (Geographical Indication), which is a tremendous honour and also a smart business move, meaning no other restaurant could name its dish 'Hyderabadi haleem.'
The GI tag also indicated that a certain standard is always expected from Pista House's haleem - for instance, the ratio of goat meat to pounded grain must be precise, there can be no other additives of flavouring or colouring, all ingredients must be absolutely fresh and pure, and the cooking time of twelve hours must not vary.
Haleem And Ramzan Eid
All through the year, Pista House serves an eclectic ensemble of Chinese food, Mughlai dishes and Western imports like sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, bread and pastries, and all manner of baked goods. The cashew-laden Pista-special chicken is an in-house specialty, so is their chicken lavazza, which comes with gravy and salad, and naan. Of course, no matter when you visit the restaurant, it is always busy. But, it is during the days leading up to Eid that it really comes to life.
During Ramzan, Pista House serves only haleem and in two versions - vegetarian and mutton. Into the vegetarian version goes nuts and dried fruits, in order to make up for the lack of richness that is afforded by the meat. Hundreds of kilos of haleem are made every day; naturally, the in-house kitchen and its staff is not enough to deal with so much, therefore, extra cooks are hired to work in Nayaab Hall. Six hundred people are pressed into service at this time at the Pista House kitchen, in order to ensure that all orders are sent out on time.
The crowds are stupendous. Work in the kitchen begins at 2 am; the crowds in the morning are not so massive, however, at evenfall, the place is brimming with people. There are never, ever any leftovers at the end of service every day. It is clearly one of the city's most popular ways to break the Ramzan fast.
(Also Read: Haleem Khowsuey Recipe)
Pista House Around the World
In another smart business move, Majeed tied up with Gati (a courier company) to exclusively transport Pista House's haleem around India and the world during Ramzan. And, so it travels all the way round to the UAE, US, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Singapore. Naturally, this export version of haleem is slightly altered to keep it fresher and easier to transport - it is boneless and vacuum-sealed. Also, the dish is tweaked depending on where it is sent.
So, popular is it that Bengaluru now has its own Pista House, although here, the recipe is tweaked since the city's patrons prefer slightly less spicy versions of haleem - the taste is adjusted accordingly.
The Famous Patrons of Pista House
It's no wonder that Pista House has many admirers. It is said that former Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was a patron, as is Salman Khan, Dia Mirza and Sania Mirza. Khan's words of praise are on their website, as are Sania Mirza's. "Pista House is truly unique and there is nothing quite like it. Please do send my compliments to the Pista House who made my stomach and my taste buds oh-so-happy!" she writes.
Address: Etebar Chowk, Kotla Alijah, Moghalpura, Hyderabad - 500002, Telangana.
Phone: +91 93965 00786