Photo by the writer
Photo by the writer

From haleem to ghagras and jhoomars, Hyderabadi culture has left its imprint on contemporary Pakistan, none more so of course than on Karachi’s cuisine. Where would Karachi be without its beloved biryani and where would biryani be without its tens of millions of devoted fans?

While there are different versions of biryani and haleem, it’s the Hyderabadi version that dominates the foodscape; conquer the famously fastidious kuchi biryani, after all, and you will be hailed as the ultimate chef.

The epicentre of culture in pre- and post-colonial India, Hyderabadi cuisine has shaped what most us eat even decades later. Of course, there’s more to Hyderabadi cuisine than its iconic dishes — dishes such as mirch ka saalan, chicken 65, dum ka qeema and baghaaray baingan are equally delicious but as not as well-known as their famed cuisine cousin.

Chicken 65

Compared to most of the centuries-old Hyderabadi culinary delights, chicken 65 is the new kid on the block. Among the stories about why it’s called chicken 65 is that it was invented in 1965, in Hotel Buhari in Chennai.

Others say it’s called chicken 65 because it was the 65th item on the menu at a military barrack or that the dish originally had 65 pieces of chicken or that there were 65 spices put in the dish. The most bizarre story I came across was that it was invented by a former sheriff. A sort of fast-food popcorn chicken meets masala tarrka, chicken 65 can be had as a scrumptious snack or made into a full meal.

There’s more to this cuisine than its iconic biryani and haleem

While Chicken 65 can be made using chicken breast pieces, chicken thigh is recommended, as it won’t dry out during frying. Ideally, this should be marinated overnight. There is a dry version and a version with a sauce — both have been included below.


For the marinade

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup yoghurt
1½ tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
2 tablespoons Kashmiri chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon red chili powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
1½ teaspoons or hasb-e-zaiqa salt
2.5 tablespoons corn flour
3 tablespoons rice flour

For the sauce

¾ cup yoghurt
¼ cup chili garlic sauce
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red chili powder

For the tarrka

1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
1 teaspoon zeera
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
20 curry leaves
4-5 green chillies
Oil, as needed


Mix all the spices and the yoghurt together – whisk well. Add the chicken pieces and mix well. Set aside overnight in the fridge.

Coat the marinated chicken pieces in rice and corn flour.

Heat oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Fry all the chicken pieces and pat dry.

Fry the tarrka – sauté the ginger-garlic paste, mustard seeds, green chillies and curry leaves.

Toss the tarrka on top of the fried chicken. Serve with sliced lemon and onions.

For the sauce version, add the fried chicken to the pan. Add the yoghurt, tomato sauce and chili garlic sauce and stir well. Add the spices and mix. Then add the tarrka.

Serve hot with naan.

Photo by Faryal Diwan
Photo by Faryal Diwan

Dum Ka Qeema

One doesn’t think of qeema as luxurious – but dum ka qeema may change your mind about this homely dish. The smoked meat and the roasted spices elevate this dish to another level, and remind one of its royal history. This dish is easy and simple to make, and can be marinated and prepped in advance.


1 kg qeema
4 onions
½ kg yoghurt
3-4 tablespoons bhunay huay channay/roasted chickpeas
10-15 whole red chillies
4-6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon black peppercorn
2 tablespoon zeera
2-3 tablespoons of shredded kacha papita (raw papaya)
1 large lemon or 2 small lemons


Place the qeema (minced meat) in a bowl. Add the yoghurt, lemon juice and salt to it. Shred the raw papaya and add it to the qeema. Mix well. Set aside.

Roast the whole spices — the cloves, cinnamon, black peppercorn, zeera and the eliachis. Then blend them in a grinder. Add the ground spices to the qeema.

Finely chop the onions and fry them till they are brown. Spread out on a plate to dry — if you want them to dry quicker, you can also place them in the freezer. Once dry, crush the onions finely by hand or with a mortar pestle. Add the crushed onions to the qeema mixture.

Heat oil in a big pot. Add the qeema and cook till done.

Place a small piece of charcoal in the pot. Drop a spoon of oil on the charcoal and close the lid. Let the charcoal BBQ the qeema.

Serve hot with naan.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 11th, 2024



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