Hey Dhokla! I'm really interested in learning how to cook desi food, I'm quite an inexperienced cook at the moment, but I'll be living in India for a few months starting in July with a friend and I really want to learn how to cook some of the food there. I'll be living in Hyderabad, mostly in the old city area, so I'll be learning how to cook some Muslim Indian food as well as some Telgu dishes and some south Indian ones as well (Hopefully). Do you have much experience with desi food or cooking in India in general?
I hope you are looking forward to Hyderabad. You will really enjoy the food. Thats one great historical mix of cuisines. You can find so many types of really good food in Hyderabad, that I would think you'd want to just sample them all. And then think about cooking for yourself. What an opportunity. Let me elaborate.
In Hyderabad you will find a predominance of very spicy HOT dried red chilli pepper powder in many of the dishes. The red color in those dishes is not from tomato...so watch out. But having said that, once you develop a taste for red chilli pepper on your palate, you will keep wanting more and more of that heat. Some people can take it, and come can't. You will find out for yourself. Remember the antidote of Capsaicin is Dairy. So cool yogurt or cold milk will do wonders to a burning tongue.
In Hyderabad you will also find 'Biryani'. The hyderabadi biryani cooked in the "DUM" or pressured style is amazing. The old style of cooking Biryani was to make a pit in the ground, fill it with a wood and coal fire and place a heavy bottom pan into it for cooking. In this pan one would have Ghee or clarified butter as the cooking medium. To this, whole warm spices like brown and green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and star anise would be added. Some finely diced onions, saute'd till golden brown, then you would add a paste of ginger and garlic to be fried for a bit. Finally chicken or meat marinated in yogurt and turmeric would be added to this mix and allowed to cook in its own juices, till done well. When done, this meat would be set in the same or similar heavy bottom container and layers of the meat and cooked basmati rice. On top of the final layer of rice, one would spread crispy fried onions, fried cashews and sprinkle saffron and rose petals soaked in milk. Cover with a lid and seal tightly with Chapatti dough or flatbread dough. Leave the pot in the pit to simmer over the embers. When its done, and you open the seal, the Hyderabadi Dum Biryani that comes out is like magic! To be enjoyed on its own or accompanied by some lassi (buttermilk). Mughlai cuisine is a mix of persian and indian influences and an entire era was given royal patronage. You can find it alive and flourishing in Hyderabad. Be it in this form, or the kebabs, or shorbas, or payas or saalan. Each one more delightful than the other.
In Hyderabad you will also find authentic vegetarian food like Kootu, Thokku, Pulusu, Sambhar, Rasam, Dosa, Idli, Vada, Upma and other savories that are all vegetarian. They are prepared slightly differently than those found in Chennai since the two regions are different. But to many tourists, they represent a vegetarian variety that is universally understood as 'South Indian Food'.
You will also find Maharashtrian influence there. This is seen in dishes which have fresh coconut, tamarind and red chilli powder in that combination with fresh vegetables and daals.
Food is relatively inexpensive and I would just eat at a different location each time till I discovered one that I like. Of course you might not want to do that, so please take my ways of waxing poetically with a big pinch of salt.
For a quick study, I would recommend all the you tube videos by NISHA MADHULIKA. She has a website called nishamadhulika.com. And even Wall Street Journal has featured her as the person with the largest video following on you tube. She makes videos about Indian foods and cooking. Does an awesome job, though those of you who are not used to the high pitched lilt, might want to watch with subtitles. But her techniques are great. For Gujarati food, I'd recommend BHAVNA'S KITCHEN on you tube. She is very authentic too. See several street food videos from Hyderabad. Enjoy your time there.
Oh I'm really excited for the spice! During my winter break I went to Hyderabad for a month and a half for the first time and it was incredible, I really do enjoy Hyderabad. Hyderabadi Briyani is easily my favorite food, back in the United States my friends mother would cook it for us all the time and every time I was surprised by just how much flavor was in it! Most of the rice I would eat at home would be Mexican or east Asian style rice and the flavor of the Briyani blew them away. I've been living in Bhutan as a student this past year and all of there food had red chili in it, my year in Asia has been full of so much incredibly spicy food I don't think I could go back to all the sweetness at home.
Thanks for the detailed look at cooking briyani! I find the idea of using chapatti dough as a way to contain the steam so fascinating, it truly feels like cooking briyani is an art that's been mastered for centuries.
My favorite food memory of Hyderabad was going to this nice mandi place before my friends cousins wedding reception, I love the style of eating, everything being on a big plate and all. Its such good conversation food. The second closest would probably be riding to an incredible dosa stand that opens up at 4 in the morning, incredible journey for some tasty breakfast. Because I was will my friend in the old city most of the time, I mostly ate Indian food with Persian influence, this time I'd like to get around to trying more of the authentic vegetarian food so I'm making it my goal to try everything you presented in that list. Shouldn't be too hard right?
I've been watching lots of YouTube cooking lately so I'll make sure to subscribe to those channels so I can get a better look at the incites of Indian cooking. I think the most intimidating thing is all the spices used in the dishes. I'm definitely no expert on cooking and I can see that balancing the spices can take a lot to master!
Thanks a ton for all the great information Dhokla. I didn't think my excitement for going back to Hyderabad could get any higher but you definitely mad it so.