ITC Kohenur on a mission to revive and showcase recipes from royal kitchens

tursh jheenga | Photo courtesy: ITC Kohenur
The sharp flavours of the dondakaya pallila yepudu, or coccina prepared with peanuts and chilli, contrast starkly with the nuanced arvi ke kebab, colocasia with the bite of peppercorns and nuts. While the former represents the robust food cooked across homes in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the latter is an example of the elegant repast enjoyed by the nobles of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. And both come together at the new ITC Kohenur, Hyderabad, to present a cohesive picture of the region’s richly diverse cuisine.

At the Golconda Pavilion, the coffee shop, Assistant Chef Sakala Sankara whips up delights such as tamalapaaku bajjilu (betel leaf fritters), beerakaya paalu koora (ridge gourd with coconut milk and chillies) and dossakai mamsam (mutton and yellow cucumber curry). Dishes like this no longer find a place in everyday cooking. “Some dishes such as the dappalam (a vegetable stew made with pumpkin, eggplant, tamarind and jaggery) only exist in oral traditions, passed down by our grandmothers. Our intention is to revive such lost recipes,” says Sankara.

Chapala venkaya koora | Photo courtesy: ITC Kohenur
The focus here will be on ancient grains and local vegetables such as the ambada (a form of sour spinach), kulfa (pigweed) and chukha (green sorrel), which thrive in the state’s dry weather and red soil. “One vegetable which makes a frequent appearance is brinjal, and it is used in innovative ways such as with dry fish. This is not a dish you will find on restaurant menus. Also, the idea is also to see the intelligent use of spices in this region through history,” says Executive Chef Yogen Datta. For instance, in the dossakai mamsam, star anise is used to add a sweet note to the curry. Dishes such as these offer a departure from the stereotypical — and entirely mythical — notion, of the state’s cuisine as one laden with gut-wrenching heat.

Haleem | Photo courtesy: ITC Kohenur

The revivalist vision continues at Dum Pukht Begum’s as well, the fourth edition of the signature restaurant to open in the country. But this version of the legendary restaurant is very different, both in terms of décor and menu. Styled like a begum’s baithak khana, the space is done up in a regal silver and purple. A long corridor lit by ornate chandeliers leads guests to the 58-seater which features delicacies from the homes of Hyderabad’s nobility. The menu, which also features some of Dum Pukht’s signature dishes, draws on memories of an elaborate dastarkhwan (grand spread), created using recipes guarded zealously by families. “A mother would not share a recipe with her daughter, as the latter would go to another home after marriage, taking this heirloom with her,” says 65-year-old Javed Akbar, an expert on the royal cuisine of Hyderabad, and whose forebears were once ministers in the Nizam’s court.

Gosht ki chutney on rogani roti | Photo courtesy: ITC Kohenur

A consultant to Dum Pukht Begum’s, Akbar displays rare manuscripts and books from his collection, featuring old recipes, some of which he is trying to revive with the hotel’s chefs. A 200-year-old book titled Aiwan-e-Naimat has a section just on rotis — featuring breads of all shapes and kinds, likening them to ferns, flower petals, raindrops, and so on. Two pages, each dedicated to kormas, do pyazas and dalchas — and no fewer than 161 rice recipes!

Each home in old Hyderabad had its own speciality, and competition among cooks was muted but fierce. A meal curated by Akbar brings these stories to the fore, as also influences from artists, nobles and scholars travelling to the Nizam’s court from Iran, Morocco, Turkey and Afghanistan. There’s seb zameeni, a potato and beetroot kebab, and named for the apple-like tuber. Hyderabad’s famous Shikampur kebab makes an appearance as well, but it’s the creamy dum ka murgh and the Begum’s mahi qaliya, a slightly tart, aromatic curry of murrel fish fillet, which are the highlights. Veggies are showcased in the dakhni chowgra, a stir-fry of beans, peas, potatoes, carrots and cauliflower, which goes beautifully with the dal badshah pasand, a semi-dry dish in which the dal is cooked in milk.

A copy of Aiwan-e-Naimat | Photo courtesy: ITC Kohenur
A different dimension of royal cuisine is presented by Kulsum Begum, niece to Salar Jung III, who married into the royal family of Mahmudabad. The move to Uttar Pradesh made her realise the differences between the royal cuisines of Hyderabad and Awadh — the former with its forthright flavours and the latter with subtle aromas. Her craving for the flavours of home led her to explore the ancient recipes of the Salar Jung family. Her dishes are marked by the use of souring agents such as tamarind and fresh fruits and, as a result, are more sharply flavoured than Akbar’s. Which only confirms the great variety of sub-genres within this vast cuisine. One of the highlights from her repertoire is the gosht ki chutney, shredded mutton cooked with tamarind. “It was so good that during trials we were eating so much of it on toast,” laughs Datta. Hyderabadi food just about haleem and biryani? Perish the thought.
/> ITC Kohenur, Hyderabad, opens to the public on June 1, 2018