Travelogue Archive

Irani Chai and Biscotti

Hyderbad is an embodiment of 3 things. A connection with the past, accepting the present and building a future.
This city does it the best.

Like most great cities, it has a rich history. Hyderabad was founded in 1589. The city grew around the famous Char Minar, a 4 sided tower which was built in 1591. This region was rich in minerals. The mines of Golconda were said to produce diamonds and many precious stones. The famous Kohinoor Diamond, now a part of the British Royal Family’s crown jewels is said to have been excavated here. Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, conquered the city for 40 years. After his death, a Mughal governor was selected to rule Hyderabad. This governor came to be known as a Nizam.

This marks the point when he and his newly appointed constituency started growing together.
The Nizam brought with him his northern Indian culture. Over time, this fused with local cultures to give an identity to the Hyderabad of today.
As expected, Hyderabadi food is proof of that.

Whenever this cuisine is mentioned, it should not to be confused with local cultures. The Nizam was Muslim. This naturally means that Hyderabadi food is very different from other indigenous cuisines, such as Rayalaseema and Andhra.

Authentic Hyderabadi cuisine is easy to find. All you need to do is visit the Char Minar. This is the Hyderabad of yesterday. Taking a stroll here is like visiting Old Delhi. Vendors sell everything from jewelry to spices and essences. Its hard to not to miss the food sold here.

Farasha Irani hotel caught my eye. Especially the “Irani” bit.

This restaurant came into being back in 1955. During the same time, other stalwarts such as Paradise and Madina came up. Farasha’s founders were from Iran. Their main profession was butchery and meat fabrication. This is why Hyderabad is home to so many steak houses. Over time, some dishes merged with Nizam ones. The biryani here is very similar to traditional Hyderabadi biryani, just made differently. Persian influences can be seen in one particular combination, enjoyed by everyone who visits.

Irani Chai – This is considered to be the “Gourmet” variation of the usual Chai (tea) you get everywhere. It is made using a blend of different tea leaves, which are then boiled in milk, water and sugar. It is believed that this blend includes leaves which impart flavour as well as those, which impart aromas. It doesn’t use any spices, so the product is smooth and in a way, silky. Almost Like hot chocolate.

Karachi Bakery is known all over for their bakery products. Almond biscotti, chocolate biscotti and a variety of other things. Most of them are quite elaborate and are sold at exorbitant prices. The original recipe is simpler. Persians were master bakers. The original “biscuit” consisted of basic ingredients such as milk, sugar, flour and salt. Like short bread. These are called “Usmania” biscuits. Karachi Bakery specializes in these, as well as Fancier and more decadent versions, which evolved over time.

Traditional Muslim Hyderabadi cuisine is essentially protein based. Dishes iclude Bhagara Baingan (stuffed smoked aubergine in a rich gravy), Haleem (meat cooked overnight in pulses and spices), quorma etc. They borrow elements from their North Indian counterparts in Lucknow, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The only difference here is the extensive use of white sesame seeds, tamarind and coconut. These ingredients do not feature in the north.

Desserts, too are different. Specialities such as Double ka meetha (Deep fried bread in a creamy milk based liquid), Khubani ka Meetha (apricots with cream and almonds) and Kulfi faluda (Indian milk sorbet, found in various colours and flavours, served with cold vermicilli)

As one moves away from Char Minar, the city changes. Old minarets are replaced by high rise buildings housing some of the most prominent IT companies in the world. This part of the city is cosmopolitan and very “high tech”, to say the least ; a far cry from its place of origins. Suddenly, things seem shinier. Blinding lights, fast cars, 4 lane highways, glass facades and skyscrapers are now, the order of the day. A place like this shouldn’t seem concerned about the past. It is now & the future. But this is where Hyderabad shows it’s character.

There’s usually a price for everything. In similar modern planned Indian cities such as Delhi and Bangalore, the price we pay for being “shiny” is pollution and very high general living expenses. 13 of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. My city is #1. Yes, for most of us, these things don’t catch our eye whenever we see bling. But for those who don’t see this, life is pretty much all in black and white.  

Hyderabad too, is a planned city. I think it’s as large and modern as others, if not more. However, unlike others of its kind, it is one of the least polluted cities in India. Surprisingly, Hyderabad still has fairly reasonable living expenses. See for yourself.

Food, too changes as one travels through this time warp.

Visit any chai wala (tea vendor) anywhere in the city and you’ll notice that most of them still sell this old Irani Chai-Usmania biscuit duo. What is more intriguing is the fact that his customers include the office sweeper, the CEO and everyone in the middle. They’ve been stopping here for tea, for years. Sentiment and memory has taken over now. To them, a plastic cup with “fresh” coffee, 15-second froth and their name scribbled on it isn’t as appealing as a cup of classic Irani Chai.

And of course, comparing biscotti to modern Indian “bakery” products would be insulting it’s very existence.

Its like comparing a “simple good ol’ chocolate cake”  and a “double fudge-mocha Belgian chocolate cake with Oreo/MnM’s & butter cream frosting etc etc”

Old is gold. Gold is invaluable. Comparing it to anything new equals sacrilege.

People here are proud of their past and rely on it to grow. Time flies but roots remain. The greatest cities in the world have one thing in common. An identity. This identity helps them grow.


In a world of change, some things remain evergreen. Here, that thing is summed up in something as simple as chai.

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