A taste of heaven

Published September 13, 2014

Hyderabad’s cuisine has always been fishy. Literally, that is. The region is particularly known for food that revolves around river fish, the most popular being the rahu and the palla, as they are referred to in the local lingo. Therefore, the popularity of Punjabi food in the city is a surprising trend.

The main hub of Punjabi food is in the former Bazaar-i-Husn (red light area) of Hyderabad. It’s situated in the heart of the city between Siri ghat and Shahi Bazaar. Although its lanes no longer echo to the sounds of dancing bells, courtesans no longer linger on their balconies hoping to tempt clients into their establishment, the cuisine is what now attracts throngs of people to the area. The affordable prices of these delicacies are another factor that contributes to its popularity.

The Punjabi Hotel, which opened sometime in the 1950s is one of the area’s oldest establishments. According to Mr Muneer, the former owner of the establishment, his ancestors settled in Hyderabad from Shaikhupura, Punjab, a century ago as labourers. Then his grandfather Sirajuddin and his father Saleem Ahmed opened a humble halwa puri shop in the area. Within a few years, they included items such as siri paye, kalla, brain, minced mutton, etc. The locals welcomed this Punjabi introduction into their diet with open arms.


The Punjab Hotel introduced the residents of Hyderabad to a cuisine they’ve remained addicted to since it first opened its doors almost 60 years ago


The popularity of the Punjabi Hotel was such that they boasted of classical singers, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Umeed Ali Khan, music directors Ghulam Nabi Abdul Latif, Imdad Hussain, Feroz Gul, Azra Riaz and musician Amanat Gul as some of their most regular clients.

To give an idea of the sheer amount of food that was consumed at the hotels at Bazaar-i-Husn, butcher Abdul Rahman alias Dembho, recalled how for a hotel called the Sheesh Mahal, a delivery of a whopping 760kg of mutton was fixed for the first day of Eid, every year.

According to Sindhi and Urdu film actress, Mahpara, “The siri paye, halwa puri and minced mutton of Punjabi Hotel were very delicious and I was fond of these dishes as the owners cooked them with lots of heart.” Nowadays, as she no longer lives in the bazaar, she misses the food of the hotel very much.

A local of the area, leather merchant Mustafa Ali Jafri says the food of the hotel was famous and also very very spicy. “I must be one of the last people to remember what the food tasted like,” he said while adding, “My mother preferred having murgh chollay from there for supper.”

The cuisine the hotel offered was also cooked at home as well. Television artiste Mussarrat Hussain, younger brother of the late actress Chakori, said that his mother was an expert at cooking daal mash gosht, dhaan saag and fish. Her culinary skills were adopted by Chakori and Mussarrat Hussain fondly recalls how she cooked these delectable foods for the entire family as well.

According to another resident, Ramchand, film star Chakori was very fond of the siri paye served at the hotel. “Our cricket team also had an affinity for the siri paye of the Punjab Hotel. They had it when they came to Hyderabad for a match against India several decades ago. In fact, they loved it so much, they came twice,” he said proudly.

Stage artiste Jameela alias Peeno, whose family hails from Sialkot and Jammu and Kashmir also endorses the food of the hotel saying, “The taste of the Punjabi Hotel’s food items is the same as that of our home-made dishes. I haven’t found the difference between the two.”

The new management at the Punjab Hotel might have left the its old clients longing for the more classic taste the founders introduced to them, but aficionados of the hotel’s cuisine need not fret any longer, Mr Muneer is back and is currently running another hotel serving halwa puri — the item his elders started out with. Following a similar trajectory, he soon plans to introduce siri paye, murgh chohlay, minced mutton as well. The bells that echoed in the area might be gone, but the food is still very much here to stay.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 14th, 2014

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