Ramadan is here and so is the lip-smacking haleem, the season's flavour which during the holy month trumps even biryani, the signature dish of Hyderabad.
Bhattis or brick-and-mud ovens in front of eateries are a common sight, be it in the centuries-old markets around historic Charminar, other parts of Hyderabad or the twin city of Secunderabad.
Chefs with their assistants are seen engaged in the laborious process of making the sumptuous dish in large vessels cemented on bhattis. The entire cooking process, spanning 10 to 12 hours, is done on firewood.
The delicacy, a stew of meat, lentils and wheat mixed with spices, is originally an Arabic dish that is said to have come here during the Mughal period via Iran and Afghanistan.
The syrupy dish was Indianised with the addition of Indian spices, dry fruits, ghee and the unique style of cooking.
From star hotels and popular food joints to small eateries, almost everyone prepares haleem, which is preferred for breaking the fast due to its energizing nature, high nutritional value and soothing porridge-like texture.
At every eatery, one can spot two or more men mixing the ingredients and pounding the meat in the vessels with large wooden poles.
The painstaking process starts early in the morning with the cooking of the meat, mixed with chillis, garlic and ginger. Wheat is added once the meat becomes tender. Later lentils, spices including cardamom, cumin, garam masala, dry fruits like cashew and almonds, oil, ghee and other ingredients based on the taste are added. The pounding ensures that the mixture turns into a fine paste.
As the Iftar time approaches, dozens of workers start packing or serving piped hot haleem garnished with special spicy shorba (meat broth), carmelized onions, coriander and slices of lemon.
Haleem comes in all variants. Mutton, beef, chicken, fish, vegetarian -- you name it. From old hotels like Madina in the old city to Iranian restaurants like Sarvi, all claim to have their own unique taste.
Some hotels serve the mutton haleem by topping it with fried pieces of chicken, zaban (goat's tongue) and egg.
While haleem is not a new dish, it gained huge popularity over last 10-15 years thanks to Pista House, the brand which has gone global and claims to be the world's largest haleem-maker.
With ever-increasing number of outlets, new marketing strategies, supply in different parts of the country and innovative variants, the dish is ahead of its competitors.
After vegetarian and diet haleem for the calorie conscious, Pista House has this year come out with organic haleem. According to Managing Director M. A. Majeed, only organic ingredients, including the meat, are used.
"Our organic haleem blends the best of both worlds - the classic taste of our haleem and the purity of organic ingredients," says Pista House Director Mohaddis Ali said.
This Ramadan, Pista House haleem is available at over 200 dine-in and take-away outlets across Hyderabad, and also in Bengaluru and Chennai.
Like in previous years, supply chain major Gati Ltd will deliver Pista House haleem in selected cities including Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. The haleem is prepared at 2 p.m. every day and is delivered the same day after 8.30 p.m. This haleem costs Rs 775 per kilogram.
Specially packaged canned haleem, with a shelf life of 15 days, will also be delivered by Gati.
Pista House, which secured Geographical Indication (GI) status for Hyderabadi haleem in 2010, has also partnered with Swiggy for home delivery in Hyderabad.
At Pista House outlets in Hyderabad, a plate of haleem (350 grams) come for Rs 150, up by Rs 10 from last year.
Its haleem has already gone global with the opening up of couple of outlets in the United States and Dubai.
There are about 600 haleem makers in Hyderabad and it is estimated that they do business of over Rs 100 crore during Ramadan.