My tryst with Haleem began not too long ago. A colleague introduced me to this slow cooked absolute delicacy from Pista House during a work trip to Hyderabad. The soft gooey melt in the mouth meat and wheat delicacy tinged with lime juice was an instant hit. After that, have had Haleem from various places over the years but nothing came close to what they make at Pista House. Haleem has attained a cult status from the time it was sold in make shift street corner outlets in the 1950’s and 1960’s to now; so much so that it is one of the few cooked food item that has been accorded the GIS (Geographical Indicator Status) by the Government of India
Walking through Frazer Town during Ramadan, I had the Haleem from Pista House. I squeezed lime juice into the bowl of Haleem which was already garnished with fried onions, coriander and mint leaves. I stirred it a bit before helping myself with a spoonful. It was pure joy as I devoured the bowl of this heavenly broth made of wheat, lentils, meat, dry fruit spiced with garam masala, rose petals, shah jeera, pepper, ginger and garlic and dunked in pure ghee. Small bits of meat on the bone just added to the juiciness. The 20 km drive from the other end of town to Pista House Frazer Town was absolutely worth it. It is a high protein, high energy diet which is a must have during Ramzan/Ramadan- the month of day long fasting for Muslims. Iftaar is the breaking of fast after Maghrib prayers at sundown and is often done with fruits and dates followed by Haleem and other delicious dishes !!
The manager of Pista House was extremely kind and allowed us a peek into the back yard where it was being prepared. The large Degh or cauldron was covered from all sides in a brick and mud kiln and heated with fire wood. 2 young men were stirring the pot with large wooden ladles called Ghotni while another kept adding ghee continuously giving them instructions on stirring. It was a hard task to keep stirring that huge wooden Ghotni which I found hard to lift but they did it with a smile; which added to the taste I guess. The entire process takes about 10-12 hours and men take turns to stir the pot and get the broth to desired consistency so that people like me can relish it in the evening. I often wondered why Haleem is a Ramadan specialty; why it is not prepared all through the year but after being privy to the preparation process my doubts have been rested permanently.
The roots of Haleem can be traced to the Nizam of Hyderabad’s barracks in late 19th and early 20th century which was primarily manned by the Yemeni’s of the Hadhramaut area better known as “Chaush” were loyal and valiant. Sultan Saif Nawaz Jung, a Chaush noble in the court of the last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan first served Harees – a broth of meat, wheat, cinnamon and ghee. Over time, the bland Arabic Harees has been innovated with addition of lentils, masalas, dry fruits and loads of ghee and transformed into a complete art called Haleem !! This is a classical example of us embracing an import; adding local flavour and innovation and then exporting it to the world and specially to the areas where it originated from 🙂 Pista House Haleem is now exported to the UAE and is honored with national and international awards.
If you had Haleem and did not like it; taste the one from Pista House next time and you will surely change your mind. If you have never tried it- just take that little step and take a spoonful and you will demand a bowl 🙂