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In Hyderabad, food is as important as life itself (a world-view no doubt inherited from the Nizams, who reveled in culinary intemperance) and known for its dum-style cooking (its origins in Lucknow): the practice of sealing the pot or dish and gently simmering its ingredients over a slow fire, thereby increasing the absorption of aromatic spices. Lavishly decorated in vibrant blues and distinctively Hyderabadi objets d'art, Dum Pukht (ITC Kakatiya Sheraton & Towers; tel. 040/2340-1032; www.welcomgroup.com; Rs 550-Rs 1,500) is the city's most celebrated upmarket restaurant, and known for its dum-style dishes. (Dum Pukht literally means cooking by locking in steam.) Try the chef's kareli ki nahari, mutton shanks cooked in their own juices and marrow, tinged with cardamom and saffron. Melt-in-the-mouth kakori kebabs prepared from finely minced mutton, green papaya, cloves, and cinnamon are skewered, chargrilled, and eaten with sheermal, saffron-and-milk-infused flaky bread.

One of the best examples of dum-style cooking is biryani, Hyderabad's most time-honored dish, best made with marinated mutton which, together with basmati rice and spices, is prepared in a sealed pot for an aromatic result -- see tip box below/above.

Best Biryani -- Available practically anywhere, Biryani is best enjoyed with a spicy mirch ka salan (chili curry) and yogurt salad; lately, however, most of the restaurants are taking a shortcut and cooking biryani in open cauldrons -- although tasty, it's not quite the same thing. Try Azizia, adjacent the Nampally railway station: It is said to be the home of biryani, and its chefs claim to be descended from the Nizams' master chefs; alternatively try Paradise (Paradise Circle, M.G. Rd.), Café Bahar in Himayatnagar, Shadab or Medina, in the Old City (we actually preferred the biryani in these places more than at the top-end restaurants -- and that too at a fraction of the cost!).

Finish your meal with Hyderabad's famous desserts: khubani ka meetha (apricots and cream) or double ka meetha (bread pudding with cashews and almonds). Another place that serves authentic biryani, this time in an elegant atmosphere, is Firdaus (Taj Krishna, Rd. no. 1, Banjara Hills; tel. 040/6666-2323; www.tajhotels.com; Rs 500-Rs 1,600). Another good meal here is the raan-e-firdaus: tender lamb steak marinated in assorted spices and tandoor grilled. But really, all the meals are fit for a Nizam, especially enjoyed against a backdrop of live ghazal music. Also in Banjara Hills, on Road no. 1, is a three-in-one restaurant: At Fusion 9 you can select food from nine different parts of the world. Deli 9 is famous for its deliciously rich pastries -- after polishing off a few Norwegian pork chops or tenderloin steak, order the must-have Black Magic pastry (tel. 040/6550-6662).

If you're keen to sample more regional Andhra cuisine without forever losing your sense of taste (it is intensely fiery), take a table at Chutney's (tel. 040/2335-8484; Shilpa Arcade Rd. no. 3, Banjara Hills) to sample their pesarattu (spiced mung bean flour pancake) eaten with allam pachadi (ginger pickle). Better still, make your way to the first floor and take your pick of a huge variety of vegetarian dishes from North and South India at their reasonably priced all-you-can-eat daily buffet spread (Rs 167). Another value-for-money restaurant is Abhiruchi on S.D. Road (040/2789-6565 or -2227). It has superfast service and excellent food for dirt-cheap prices -- along with the thali, order the mutton gongura as a side dish (a spinachlike leaf that grows in Andhra mixed with goat meat).

One of the best buffets in town is at Collage (tel. 040/4450-8888; www.istahotels.com), the coffee shop at Ista. With its indoor and outdoor options, lavish spread during lunch (only a la carte at night), live-station sushi, kebab and teppanayaki grill, European, Italian, Japanese and Indian fare to choose from, it's understandably popular -- make reservations for the Sunday special brunch which comes with unlimited sparkling wine and beer (Rs 1,100). Another 24-hour dining option is Okra (tel. 040/2752-2999; http://marriott.com), at the new Hyderabad Marriott -- with open kitchens, a relaxed atmosphere located by the pool, candlelit in the evening, Okra can be quite charming.

Finjaan (opposite Mughal Residency Apts., Main Rd. Toli Chowki; tel. 040/2356-1738; www.finjaan.com), was the first teahouse to open in Hyderabad in 2006. At this tiny and simple establishment, brothers Salman and Mohammed Taiyebi are only too happy to educate on all 37 kinds of tea and the health benefits of your particular cuppa.

Watering Holes

Some of the hippest bars have been around for several years and seem to be getting better with age, much like the wine they serve. Touch (Trendest Towers, Rd. no. 2, Banjara Hills; tel. 040/2354-2422; cover Rs 1,000/on Sat; 7pm-midnight) is an absolute knockout, drawing the trendiest crowd and celebs yet keeping the media at bay. 10 Downing Street is even more popular but less self-conscious; it's a great place even for singles and belts out rock music on most days with karaoke on Thursdays. (My Home Tycoon Bldg., Begumpet; tel. 040/6662-9323; cover Rs 700 on Sat; 11am-11pm). Even if you aren't bunking at the Taj Krishna, drop in at Ahala (tel. 040/6666-2323; cover Rs 1,200 per couple on weekends; Wed Ladies Night/Fri Corporate Night; 6pm-midnight) -- a gorgeous lounge for a casual and classy evening, although we have seen it getting quite frenetic, in a fun way!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.