Bangalore: Two days before the start of Ramzan, Gopal and seven others boarded a bus from Hyderabad to Bangalore, equipped with spices imported from Saudi Arabia. Employees of Hyderabad’s Pista House, the cooks are staying in Bangalore through the month of Ramzan, making and selling Hyderabad haleem every day. The hired kitchen at Fatima House, a function hall located in Fraser Town, makes 300kg of haleem daily and sells it through 10 outlets in the city.
The team sets up long tables at the hall with stacks of packed haleem by 1pm, an hour before customers begin to come in. The crowd increases by evening, when preparations to break the fast begin. “By 9 every night, even the very last bowl that we make is sold. There are never any leftovers,” Gopal says, suggesting that the haleem from his kitchen is becoming a favourite way to break the roza (fast).
Not able to keep pace with the increasing demand from Bangalore, M.A. Majeed, who runs the Hyderabad-based Pista House, came up with the solution of making the haleem locally in 2011. “It has worked very well and we plan to expand to other cities like Mumbai and Lucknow in 2013,” says Majeed, whose Hyderabad kitchens make up to one tonne of haleem in 100 deghs (cauldrons) every day.
Potpourri: Pista House cooks mash a mixture of meat, spices and lentils with 8ft-long sticks for several hours to make haleem, at Fatima House in Bangalore.(Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
Majeed also exports to the Gulf, the US, Canada and Europe. “We take orders through our Facebook page and over the phone. We promise delivery within eight days,” says Majeed, who has a different version of haleem meant for export. “It is boneless and packed in vacuum-sealed containers to make sure it doesn’t spoil,” says their head cook Mohammen Pasha, adding that the haleem they make every day has a shelf life of only seven-eight hours.
In 2002, Majeed partnered with the postal department in Andhra Pradesh to stock his haleem in more than 100 post offices in the state. “Later, we tied up with the courier service Gati to deliver across the country, and every day during Ramzan we send our packages on the first flight after 1pm,” he says.
“We deliver 100-125kg of haleem in a day and get the largest orders from Mumbai, followed by Bangalore,” says Chris Buckthorp, chief strategy and managed services at Gati Ltd. Although there are several e-commerce sites that have tied up with courier services, only Gati and Pista House deliver haleem at your doorstep. In Bangalore, Pista House sells 330g packs of haleem for Rs 110 and a family pack of 1,600g that comes in a plastic bucket for Rs 500.
Hyderabad haleem started out as a meal for soldiers in the Barkas (cantonment) area near Charminar in Hyderabad and has over the years become a Ramzan staple. Though the dish has its origins in West Asia, the Hyderabad variant cooked over several hours with ground spices and lentils was given the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in September 2010. This means that no other city can make or market the dish as Hyderabad haleem.
“There are two well-known forms of haleem. The Lucknow haleem is spiced lightly and has cardamom undertones, while the Hyderabad one has all the spices of a garam masala that makes it spicy,” says Nimish Bhatia, corporate executive chef of the Lalit Group. Though Bhatia serves haleem at The Lalit Ashok Bangalore’s Baluchi restaurant, he says the haleem from Pista House is a must-try for its unique flavour.
Gopal’s temporary kitchen in Bangalore begins operations at 2am, when the mutton is chopped and boiled in spiced water in a cauldron over a wood fire. After eight hours of boiling, the meat is mashed and other ingredients such as soaked and ground wheat, urad, chana and toor dal are added. “The speciality of the Hyderabad haleem is that it cooks for a very long period of time, much like the Hyderabadi Dum Biryani. It is spicy and rich,” says Pasha, who joined Majeed in 1994 to create what is now famed as the Pista House haleem.
Majeed, who is also president of the Haleem Makers Association of Hyderabad, points out that it is not just any haleem made in the region that is called Hyderabad haleem; there are strict standards. There are 6,000 haleem makers in Hyderabad alone and more than 600 people are employed in the night shift during Ramzan at Pista House’s Hyderabad base to make sure the shipments and stock for local sales are ready in the afternoon.
“But not all the haleem makers satisfy the GI standards,” says Majeed, adding that the haleem must be made only with bacteria-free goat meat; the ratio of meat to wheat must be 10:4; the ghee used must be certified by a lab as 100% pure. The haleem must be cooked for 12 hours in a copper vessel over a wood fire, with no trans-fats and no artificial colours. Pista House haleem complies with these rules, he says. In Bangalore, Gopal and his team buy the meat and lentils locally and tweak the recipe slightly to suit the city’s palate. “They don’t like the haleem to be as spicy, so we reduce that,” says the 29-year-old, who has been cooking the dish in the Pista House kitchen for 14 years now.
Breaking a fast with haleem also has a nutritional angle. “When compared to the fried food and sweets that people tend to eat to break their fast, haleem is nutritionally superior,” says Bangalore-based nutritionist Ameena Zarar, adding that the complex carbohydrates and high protein of the dish make for slow digestion and high nutrition.
In 2005, after several requests, Pasha also created a vegetarian haleem that substitutes mutton with dried fruits and nuts, though this version is only available in Hyderabad. Majeed was in the textile business before he started making haleem in 1994. “People have to eat and items like haleem will always sell,” he figured. Though haleem is only sold during Ramzan, he has a busy year selling Karachi-style biscuits, biryani and pastries.