Where to get your haleem fix in Chennai, starting this weekend
Haleem is usually associated with the word ‘heavy’. Ironically, ahead of the start of the Ramadan month this weekend, several vendors tell us that demand is increasing toward lighter variants like a more home-style kichda and harees made with chicken, which are not only easier to digest but also cut laborious cooking sessions in half.
Before we launch into the specifics, here is a little bit of an orientation for those who haven’t tasted had a taste of this meaty indulgence just yet. The dish which hails from the Middle East travelled along with Arab and Persian settlers to Hyderabad in the ’50s, and has since become a staple on the iftar menu, the meal breaks the fast each day. High on calories and extremely rich with mutton, wheat and dal beaten into submission over a tedious seven hour process, you can only imagine the arm strength required for the preparation. In comparison, Maaria Kulsum of Adoniya Foods says her lighter, easy on the stomach kichda takes only a “couple of hours” to prepare, with the lentil proportions much higher than the wheat to reduce thickness and up the flavour.
And though practised cooks from Hyderabad who have been dishing out traditional haleem for decades now, may frown at the very thought — one could summarise that a little bit of variety never hurt. Although if the ‘original’ Hyderabadi haleem is what you seek, Farooq Ali, co-owner of Pista House franchise in Chennai shares, “Until three years ago (before the Chennai franchise was opened), people would actually fly down their Pista House haleem from Hyderabad. We are talking on average 500 boxes a day.” These days, the chefs fly down instead. To ensure authentic flavours, he goes, “They travel with their own special kind of sharbati wheat and ghee from Hyderabad, apart from other spice essentials that go into this dish.”
The same goes for homegrown go-destinations for haleem in the city like Fisherman’s Fare and Haleem Express which have been dishing out haleem for more than a decade now and bump up staff numbers with cooks from Hyderabad for the holy month. But there has been gradually leaning toward varieties made with chicken (harees) and even a vegetarian option in some cases. “If we get adequate demand, I think I might add both chicken and vegetarian haleem to our menu this year,” says Hussain Basha of Hajeera’s Kitchen in Velachery, one of the oldest serving haleem enterprises in the city, that began serving the dish way back in 2000. Whether out of curiosity or the need for a little bit of a range of haleem in the city, restaurateurs tell us that this may well be a result of a bit of both.
Smaller outfits that cater out of home kitchens tend to draw from heirloom family recipes on the other hand. Like Splendid Foods’ Bombay Kichda version that has a little bit of everything, and has built quite a following ever since Yasmin Osman began catering it 22 years ago. “I use meat with less fat, so that makes it less heavy,” she shares, adding the pieces are also not completely disintegrated as is the case with traditional haleem. The result is almost like a thick soup, made with all the same ingredients in different proportions. “For instance, I use three cups of pulses to one cup of wheat whereas with haleem, it’s often 50:50,” she explains. Lighter, faster, and just as delicious. Get your spoons ready for the best of both worlds this weekend.
Splendid Foods: Minimum order: 5 kilos for Rs 5,000. Details: 9840064410/9445427566
Adoniya Foods’ Kichda: Price: Rs 180 for 300 gms and upward. Details: 9840076488
Tasneem Ayub: Price: Rs 1,200 per kg. Details: 9884098631
Fisherman’s Fare: Available at Egmore and Anna Nagar.Prices: `170 (mutton), Rs 120 (chicken) upwards. Details: 43506161
Zaitoon: Available at outlets across the city Prices: Rs 170 plus taxes for 250 ml and upwards. Details: 42020111
Pista House: Prices: Rs150 for 330 grams and upwards Available at Royapettah, ECR and OMR
Details: 9884920918/ 9966621404
Hajeera’s Kitchen: Price: Rs 60 for 100 ml and upwards Available at Velachery, Guindy and Alwarpet. Details: 884951899
Haleem Express: Prices: Rs 60 for 250 ml and upward. Details: 9884967787