The Essential Andhra Cookbook (with Hyderabadi and Telengana Specialities)

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Item Code: IHL403
Author: Bilkees I. Latif
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 1999
ISBN: 9780140271843
Pages: 336
Cover: Paperback
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Book Description



Bilkees I. Latif, daughter of the late Nawab Ali Yavar Jung, belongs to a family that has long been known in Hyderabad for the excellence of its table and cuisine. Her French mother, Alys Iffrig's family owned hotels in Paris and Mulhouse in France and from a very young age, Bilkees became interested in the art of gourmet cooking. She did a year's study of Hyderabadi cuisine as well as a year of Western cuisine and successfully passed the Good Housekeeping exams. She later specialized in fine art, miniature painting and design in the US.

Bilkees Latif is deeply involved in the work of several committees and organizations that do active social service. She is the Founder President of the Society for Human and Environmental Development and a trustee of the Indian Council of Child Welfare, among others. She has also served as the Chairperson of the Andhra Pradesh Central Social Welfare Board. In the course of her work she has travelled extensively in Andhra and the rest of the country. Mrs Latif is also the recipient of several prestigious awards including the National Unity Award in 1991.

Bilkees I. Latif lives in Hyderabad with her husband Air Chief Marshal I.H. Latif.












Bread and Rice


Meat and Poultry


Fish and Prawns




Desserts and Sweets




Pickles and Chutneys


Masalas-Powdered Mixed Spices


The Voice of Experience





It was over lunch with David Davidar one day, roughly a year ago, that the idea of my guest editing a series on Indian cookery came up. India has one of the most diverse cultures in the world, not to mention one of the oldest, and I have always fretted about the fact that the younger generation seems to have very little understanding of this. So to put together a series of books that would enshrine and perpetuate the different flavours of India struck me as not merely an interesting project but a necessary one. I had already written my Parsi Food and Customs and we now decided to focus on the states of India; each book within the series would set out the traditional cuisine of a state along with a commentary on the kind of food served at particular occasions such as festivals and religious as well as ritualistic ceremonies.

When it came to finding an author for the book on Andhra cuisine, we didn't have to look far. Bilkees I. Latif is well known for her hospitality and the excellence of her table. She is also a person who commands respect for the work she does with disadvantaged children and war widows in Andhra and elsewhere in the country. With her usual enthusiasm and tireless energy she took on the task of exploring the riches of the Andhra kitchen and faithfully recording both traditional and improvised recipes that comprise modern Andhra cooking. She has taken care to include regional variations of each dish as well as indicating the distinguishing characteristics of sub-cuisines such as the Telengana and the Hyderabadi.

I am sure you will enjoy reading this book and cooking with its help as much as I have enjoyed helping to put it together in my capacity as the series editor. And certainly, both Penguin and I would welcome your response to the series as well as to this particular title.

Bhicoo J. Manekshaw

New Delhi


I am deeply grateful to my husband for all his understanding and help throughout the two years I took over this book.

I would like to acknowledge with gratitude all the advice, guidance and help I have received from numerous friends: Bharati Surya Rao, who went out of her way to arrange for me to meet the experts; Vasundara K.S. Rao, who explained so much to me on so many occasions when I turned to her for clarification. I also thank my aunts Begum Sabiha Najaf Ali Khan and Begum. Asgari Taki Bilgrami for explaining the delicacies of the Hyderabadi cuisine, as well as my cousin Aliya Latif, Vijayalakshmi Prabhakar and Pushpa Umapathy, who spent hours telling me about the numerous customs and rituals and also Mrs Ratna Kumar, Mrs Nirmala Kumaraswamy Reddy and my cousin Khadija Mehdi for their help. I am also grateful to my niece Parveen Tyabji for typing the whole book twice over, and always in a hurry!


Daawat-e-Hyderabad: Biryani to Badaam ki Jaali

I have noticed in Hyderabad that a conversation usually ends with a reference to food or a discussion on it! It is often remarked that here one lives to eat!

Not many know that the flag of the earlier Hyderabad State actually had a kulcha or bread embroidered on it. Thereby hangs a tale which goes back to the first Nizam of Hyderabad, Asaf Jah I, a brilliant general who was sent from Delhi to Hyderabad by Emperor Aurangzeb in 1713. Before leaving Delhi, he went to meet Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Aulia who invited him to share his meal. He ate some of the kulcha (unleavened bread), and the saint pressed him to take more. After taking seven kulchas he said he was most grateful but could take no more. He wrapped them in a yellow cloth and was about to leave when the saint blessed him, saying, 'You and your descendants will rule the Deccan for seven generations.' And so it came to be! During the rule of the seventh Nizam, the state of Hyderabad became a part of Andhra Pradesh. Like the cloth in which he had wrapped the kulchas, Asaf Jah had a yellow flag for the state of Hyderabad. On it was his dastar or headdress, embroidered in gold, and below it was the kulcha!

Over time, people from different regions and various communities have settled in Hyderabad and enriched its cuisine. Parsis, Kayasths, Marwaris and Anglo-Indians, among others, brought with them their traditions and their food and helped create the cultural ethos that is the special charm of Secunderabad and Hyderabad, the twin cities. This process of assimilation is at the heart of the Hyderabadi culture and cuisine.

In earlier days each meal, especially on festive occasions, was planned and served elaborately. While these days one is more accustomed to buffet or chowki dinners and only occasionally, a formally seated one, earlier when the family gathered for special occasions one would lay out the dastar khawn. In the old city one can still see these hanging in the shops, made of red material printed with signs of cutlery and crockery. White chaani sheets of cloth would cover the carpet in long runners about six or seven feet wide and the food would be laid out down the centre with the dishes repeated the entire length. Diners sat on both sides and Gods name was always invoked before starting a meal.

A study in contrast is dinner at the community centre of the Suleimani Bohras. Groups of six or eight sit around a large metal thaal placed on top of a 15" base. The meal starts with a dash of salt, followed by a sweet dish and then the main course. A special favourite is Bakra Khori which is a bakra or lamb stuffed with a chicken and hard-boiled eggs and surrounded by biryani.

At the home of Sir Akbar Hydari who was Prime Minister from 1936 to 1941, this was the norm for family meals at festivals. For official banquets Lady Hydari always had a formal sit-down dinner with the requisite crystal and cutlery and different courses. In the early decades of this century Nawab Salar Jung's table was also renowned for its excellent cuisine. So particular was the Nawab about his food that whenever he went to Mumbai (in his private saloon by the Nizam's state railway) he would stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel, but special food would also be cooked in the saloon by his own cooks and delivered at the hotel! On a normal day the table at his dewdi or palace in Hyderabad was laid out for forty people. There would be five or six Western courses followed by an equal number of Hyderabadi courses, and then the desserts. Finger bowls followed and then fruit. Salar Jung III was a frugal eater himself, and never had breakfast, but his guests as well as his staff had a lavish one! Plates were changed after every course and only the best quality food and sometimes wine, were served. When members of his family went on a hunt or shikar, they always had the servants and the whole entourage sit at a dastar khawn and eat together as an important act of belief in the brotherhood of man. Each had his own sphere of work but to break bread together for master and worker was important.

A little closer to our own times, a friend's father recalled that in 1926, as a government official touring the districts, he would take with him a cook-cum-butler who provided the following meals at the astonishing cost of a rupee a day.

Chota Hazari : Bed tea, served along with a banana.

Breakfast      : Porridge, two eggs to order, toast, butter, jam
                       and honey. Fruit juice or fruit, coffee or tea.

Lunch          : A Western non-vegetarian first course with
                     what was called a side dish of vegetables. A
                     second course of mutton, chicken or fish curry
                     with two vegetable dishes and a dal, served with
                     chapatti s and rice. Followed by a pudding, a
                     caramel custard or a trifle.

Tea              : Home baked scones or a small cake along with
                     tea, in the early evening.

Dinner          : Soup as a starter and the other courses in the
                       same sequence as lunch. If chicken was served
                       for lunch, mutton or fish would be served for
                       dinner. The variety of dishes to choose from
                      i ncluded chops, Irish stew, fried fish with tartar
                       sauce, and almost anything else that one
                       wished for!

I remember the days when my father used to tour the districts in the course of his work. There were excellent dak bungalows and government inspection bungalows all over the state, each with a good cook in residence. If one arrived tired after the day's journey one was assured of good food. A meal of parathas or khichri, a freshly chopped kuchoombar salad and a chicken korma would be ready almost by the time one had unpacked and bathed. If one was in a hurry a quick khageena of eggs scrambled with onions would be made, or a curry made of eggs. Along with this there could be khatti dal, a curry of lentils, and fresh chopped onions and green chillies. Sometimes even chigur ka salan would be produced, made with the fresh young leaves of the tamarind tree, cooked chopped spare ribs of lamb and succulent breast meat. I have found that these facilities are still there for officials visiting the rural areas, but the good cooks have moved to more lucrative city jobs.

A typical meal in the villages is very different: besan of savoury gram flour served with jawari ki roti, a bread of milo flour, or a gongura dish with boiled rice, a popular combination all over Andhra. Another simple dish often served in the rural areas is a delicious meal of plain boiled rice with a good chutney of red chillies, garlic, salt and a little lime juice, well mixed together.

Interestingly, many professional cooks still avoid cooking on a gas stove, especially for banquets. When cooks are sent for from Hyderabad for weddings in Delhi, they usually refuse to cook in the spacious kitchens which have gas stoves. Chulhas are made outside of mud and brick, and they cook on wood and charcoal!

Wedding dinners in Hyderabad are still fairly traditional but ice cream is a new addition to the end of the meal. We used to make the old kulfi malai in our homes by putting the kulfi cones or sanchas into a large earthenware pot along with plenty of ice and salt. One person sat on the ground rotating the pot and the children had great fun taking turns at it. Even today there are many who claim that those malai kulfis were the best! Actually we probably use less of the thick cream malai, or balai as it is also called when it is really thick and in layers. In these cholesterol conscious days we no longer encourage such tastes!

At official dinners hosted by the chief ministers of Andhra at the beautiful Jubilee Hall there is usually a superb Andhra Mughlai spread prepared by the Amera, the government's official catering department. Mughlai food has become popular at all formal celebrations including wedding banquets. Chowkies or low tables are laid out in a carpeted hall, each covered with a red or white tablecloth. The carpets are usually covered with white sheets or chaani that one walks on with clean bare feet. A traditional banquet menu or a wedding spread laid out on each chowki starts with luqmi, a fried pastry stuffed with cooked mince. The rest of the meal could consist of a variety of dishes eaten in courses: kababs of lamb meat, dum ka murg, a baked chicken with rich flavouring, a tomato kuttu with hard-boiled eggs, bagharey baingan or mirchi ka salan which are eaten with soft sheermal roti. A biryani of the finest rice cooked with lamb is served along with boorani which is made of curds and chopped onions and vegetables. Sometimes the dishes vary, and occasionally haleem is served, of meat cooked in wheat. Sometimes kulthi ki kut which is a curry or horse gram, may be served instead of tomato kuttu. There is a great variety in the kababs too, which are served garnished with sprigs of mint, finely sliced rings of onions and slivers of lime on the sides. There could also be a rich korma of chicken or lamb, or raan mussallam which is a leg of lamb cooked with rich spices.

The dessert could be shahi tukre or khubani ka meetha served with cream, or these days with vanilla ice cream. A special tray of badam ki jaali and ashrafi sweets are kept aside for the bride to carry with her to her husband's home. Baadam ki jaali are flat rounds about four inches in diameter with an almond and sugar base. Silver varak is placed on top and covered with another round that has an intricately cut-out design, through which the silver varak can be seen. It looks like a little filigree of white and silver. Ashrafi sweets are made of the same base material, but look like coins with traditional calligraphy imprinted on them.

I recall that when I was young, my parents would occasionally take visitors on a drive to the Charminar area of the old city at night, which even today is quite an exciting adventure. I still remember the kabab roti seller at Machli Kaman a little before the Charminar, where you stopped the car alongside the arched collonade outside the shops. Freshly cooked seekh kabab with mint chutney, finely sliced onions and slices of lime would be prepared and served with hot spongy bread called kulchas, or ulte tava ki roti, large, very fine chapattis cooked on an overturned curved griddle. These would be served on leaf-plates held together with tiny thorns or twigs. Then onward to the famous mithai or sweetmeat shop to the left of the Charminar, well before the beautiful old Malwalla Palace of the Kayasth rajas, where one batch of sweets was always freshly made late at night, supposedly for the djinns from the world beyond! It is said that the djinns only materialize in human form when the people and the city go to sleep, so the sweets are collected at midnight. We have tried to spot them at the shop but have never succeeded!

After five in the morning one gets nahari from a restaurant in front of the Nampalli station, which has been cooked on a slow fire all night. It is a delicious soup with sheep's tongue and trotters. One takes it home in a tiffin carrier to eat for breakfast from a soup plate with pieces of kulcha or soft sheermal bread soaked in it. There are several other unusual dishes from this region like Bibi Mariam ki roti (the bread of the Virgin Mary), thikri ki dal (lentils flavoured with an earthenware tile) murtabbak made from mince and wheat bread and haleem made of lamb cooked with broken wheat. Many of these dishes are made with very simple ingredients and hardly any masala or ghee.

Hyderabadi food festivals are frequently held in hotels all over India and abroad, but the kachi biryani, the various kababs and pathar gosht, bagharey baingan, mirchi ka salan, machli ka mahi khaliya and dum ka murg are never as good as when they are cooked in Hyderabad on charcoal or wood fires. The first time I had pathar gosht was an unforgettable occasion. It was made by the cooks working for the Siddi Rissala, the African bodyguard of the Nizam, who came to our farm to make this dish as a very special gesture. They brought the thin stone slates needed for grilling the meat. A flat rectangular area of about four feet by two and a half feet was covered with a deep layer of sand. Burning coals were laid all over this and the thin stones were placed at an angle covering them. When the stones got really hot, the flat slices of well marinated mutton were laid out all over. The searing hot slates hissed and a tantilizing aroma wafted towards the guests.

While the mutton cooked, a group of men, bare chested and wearing skirts, performed a swaying, swivelling dance to an incredible drumbeat that made us all want to join in. The leader, a huge blind man, was in the centre controlling and guiding the tempo with a pair of wooden tambourines in his hands. In the soft light of the moon amidst the black Deccan rocks it was a magnificent sight. The next item was a talwar ka pher, in which a man wielding a sword or stick fended off a gang of rowdies seeking to attack him. Guests watched with fascination while sipping tukme raihan, falsa or lal imli sherbets from finely cut crystal glasses. And then they were served the delicious pathar gosht with roti, imli-podina chutney and sliced onions.

Double ka Meetha and Other Such Hybrids:

The influence of various different cuisines is evident in practically every dish made in our homes these days. The ordinary loaf of bread which is now available in cities and towns all over India is the base in Hyderabad for our version of bread pudding, a very special dessert called double ka meetha, and shahi tukre, made from double roti, the regular loaf of bread. There is also a halwa of bread, as well as a savoury fried roll made with bread. The British curry puff and the mulligatawny soup which was originally a rasam or pepper water made in Andhra, Tamil Nadu and other southern areas are other such hybrids.

The custom of Chota Hazari is another remnant of the British influence. A cup of tea has become a necessity early in the mornings, as also High Tea in the evenings. Housewives say that tea is best made in a china tea pot with lightly brewed Darjeeling tea made the English way. But our dhaba version is also popular and invigorating. Called do sau meel ki chai, it peps you up, keeps you going for miles. It is tea well boiled along with milk, sugar, cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon and fresh ginger. We also have our own versions of Irish stew. I have been given an Andhra recipe for stuyee, and have a family version which is the Bilgrami ishtu! There is caramel custard, known as cushtar pudding, as well as trifle pudding, cakes and biscuits of all kinds and even a local version of Christmas pudding.

In another instance of cultural exchange we have a local recipe for making Worcestershire sauce, whereas tamarind from India is used in the sauce made in England, according to an amusing article in The Economic Times which states that Worcestershire sauce was never as English as it sounds, nor quite as Indian as its flavour hints. The traditional story, which its makers, Lea and Perrins, like to tell, is that a recipe came with a Lord Sandys of Worcestershire, who returned to England after a stint in the colonies as Governor of Bengal. Meanwhile, research at Oxford by a retired company accountant, much after the sun had set over the empire, has proved the story to be wrong. That has not stopped Lea and Perrins from telling it anyway.

The story sounds good: 'Worcestershire sauce has been made here since the factory was built in 1897, using a recipe which is understood to have been brought to this country in 1835 by Marcus, Lord Sandys, who had held many offices, including that of Governor of Bengal.

On his return from India, to his native Worcestershire, Lord Sandys took the recipe to John Lea and William Perrins, chemists who owned a pharmacy in Broad Street, Worcestershire. At Lord Sandys request, the chemists made up the sauce and probably to satisfy their own curiosity and assess the sauce's viability as a commercial proposition, they prepared a quantity for themselves, which they put into stone jars. When they tasted the sauce, they found it so unpalatable that they consigned the jars to the cellar. Some time later, they rediscovered the jars and before throwing them out, tasted the sauce once again. It tasted superb! The sauce had matured.'

But now a loyal employee of Lea and Perrins has turned honest historian. 'I know that was a nice story and am sorry that a trouble-maker like me has come to spoil it all,' says Brian Keogh, the retired accountant-turned historian.

'Unfortunately, there was no Lord Sandys of Worcestershire who was Governor of Bengal at that time. In fact there was no Lord Sandys even in Worcestershire then.'

However, something Indian is indeed put into the sauce. It is the sour tamarind which continues to be imported from India for the sauce, probably from Andhra!

Another example of the English influence on cuisine came a century later, on 20 September 1898 when the combined Masonic Lodges of the state had a dinner to celebrate the Nizam's birthday. There was only one Indian course on the menu which was as follows:

Potage aux quenelles and à la reine
Poisson Entrée
Pigeon with green peas
Galantine of Duck with Olive Sauce
Roast saddle of Mutton
Truffled Turkey
Mutton Mughlai, Pillav with Chicken Malai Curry
Marble Gateaux pudding
Strawberry Ice Cream
Cheese and Devilled Biscuits
Coffee and Petits Fours

In January 1922 the Prince of Wales visited Hyderabad and a dinner was aŕranged for him by the Nizam at the Chowmahalla Palace. The whole area was beautifully decorated, and a newspaper report of the event is reproduced here. The strange thing is that the menu has no food typical of the state.

State Banquet at Chowmahalla Palace

Built in the reign of Nawab Afzal-ud-Daula Bahadur (1857-69) the grandfather of the present Nizam, its spacious quadrangles, terraces and fountains produced the illusion of a water fete. On the route to the palace oil lamps flanked the roads. Illuminated monuments and arches of the city added to the bewitching scene. The Charminar was adorned on all sides with mammoth pieces of crystal glass with the Prince's feathers shaped in glittering diamonds. On the North side was the Nizam's Dastar (headdress) with the plume lit with a golden light. Special designs were splendidly done on every side and the lighting all round was magnificent.

Unless one has witnessed a state banquet at Chowmahalla, one cannot realise the gorgeous pageantry of the Hyderabad court. Looking from the reception hall across the main square, there are large pools in the centre filled with water in which there are fountains playing. The garden full of flowers of all kinds, and myriad twinkling lights remind one of the enchanted gardens in the tales of the Arabian Nights. Inside, the palace is taste fully decorated in yellow, the emblem of royalty in Hyderabad, and is lit with huge chandeliers which were brought as trophies of the war with Tipu Sultan in 1799. Gold plate was used on the table.

His Royal Highness arrived at 8.30p.m. and was received by His Exalted Highness, and after the ladies had been presented to the Prince by the Resident, all two hundred guests sat down for dinner. His Exalted Highness's String Band was in attendance. The menu for the dinner was as follows:

Fortue Clavie
Soles Richelieu
Mousse Strasbourgeoise
Selle de Pré Sale
Dindenneau Truffe
Asperges Glaces Se Gribiche
Pêches Reine Margot

Toasts were drunk and speeches made. Attar perfume and paan (betel leaf) were served before the guests left. 

More recently, Queen Elizabeth II came to India for a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in November 1983. She also visited Hyderabad. My husband, who was the Governor of Maharashtra and of Goa at the time, was in Goa with Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi discussing the visit of the heads of state attending the meeting. Mrs Gandhi then asked me to oversee the arrangements for the Queens visit to Hyderabad. Apart from her official programme, the food was also of importance for the official banquet and private meals. The only dietary restriction I can remember was that the food should not be too heavy and preferably be bland and light. This was certainly adhered to, but in each menu we included Andhra or Hyderabadi food with Indian fruit, vegetables and sweets in addition. I recall that on 20 November, the wedding anniversary of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, a dinner was arranged in the garden with a variety of kababs being barbecued outside and served hot, and this was really appreciated and enjoyed.

At all our banquets for the visiting heads of state at Raj Bhavan, Bombay (Government House) our menus consisted mainly of Indian food. Only a soup and a dessert like a mousse or souffle would be non-Indian. We did the same in France for dinners, including one for President Mitterand. The French who are known for their gourmet food, are really sensitive to flavours. They would send for our chef at the end of a dinner and the guests would applaud when he entered. They particularly wanted to try out and taste Indian dishes. We studied and discussed with experts which wines were the best to serve with different kinds of Indian food and some of them said that lassi or salted buttermilk was the best drink to serve with our spicy food!

Tamarind and Flaming Red Chillies: The Andhra Cuisine

While Hyderabadi cuisine is perhaps the best known and written about cuisine of Andhra, traditional Telengana cooking is as exciting in its appeal to the palate and in its sophisticated blending of tastes. This ethinic cuisine takes its special flavour from two ingredients: tamarind and hot chillies.

The tamarind is a great favourite all over Andhra and is used extensively in numerous forms. Its fresh new flowers and tender leaves called chigur are curried, and the fruit is used to make chutneys as well as cooling drinks. For this the variety of tamarind grown in Bangalore is preferred as it is light brown in colour and less sour. The most sought after is the rare lal imli or red tamarind. Its juice tastes wonderful with a dash of rock salt and sugar. It is also excellent for jams and jellies.

The tamarind not only helps to digest the rich, hot, spicy Andhra food but is also considered cooling for the system as it helps to clear and empty the stomach. It is a mild and safe laxative taken as a sherbet, especially during pregnancy. It also helps to tempt one's appetite in a rasam (pepper water) or pulihora rice, particularly in summer when the hot weather makes heavy food undesirable. Tamarind seeds can even be ground into flour for making unleavened bread. Not only that, the ripe tamarind can be eaten as a sweet when mixed with jaggery.

The beneficial uses of tamarind have been testified to scientifically as well. In certain areas where the Portuguese are said to have introduced the tomato plant about four hundred years ago, the people gradually came to use tomatoes instead of tamarind. After a while it was noticed that entire villages had become affected by flourosis, a disease that causes permanent damage and deformity to the bones. Subsequently, flourine was discovered in the water in these areas. It was then worked out that earlier people were saved from the ill effects of flourine because the consumption of tamarind had blocked the absorption of flourine. It was also discovered that in other areas where there was a high concentration of flourine and the people used tamarind in their food, fluorosis remained unknown.

Tamarind is also anti-helminthic and thus gets rid of worms in the intestines. It is even considered a mild heart tonic! If its seeds are soaked overnight in water and are then peeled and eaten, they relieve pain in the lower back. The powder from dried and pounded tamarind seeds also relieves insect bites and styes in the eye, if mixed with water and applied as a poultice. The benefits of tamarind seem to be endless, for it is also said to relieve the pain of a scorpion sting!

Apart from tamarind, the other essential ingredient in Andhra cooking is the red chilly. Koraivikaram, the flaming stick, the very hottest red chilly, is grown in Guntur, and is used extensively in Andhra. The cuisine of Guntur is amongst the 'hottest' in terms of its chilly content. A chutney made from these freshly plucked red chillies, pounded fine and mixed with fresh brown tamarind pulp and salt, is a speciality of the area. This is preserved all year long and is eaten with freshly boiled rice and ghee. It is also delicious with milo bread and curds. The chillies of Reshampathi are used to make the best avakkai (mango) pickle.

The gongura, also known as ambada, is another very popular Andhra speciality. This is the leaf of the rozelle or hiscus sabdariffa plant which grows well in Andhra. Its flowers are most attractive in a flower arrangement but can also be cooked and made into a jam. Gongura is cooked with meat or with chana dal and is also made into a pickle which can stay for over a year. It is often cooked with seene ka gosht, the tender succulent meat around the breast of the sheep. I have tried, while abroad, to make a version of it using spinach and tamarind; it tasted good, but was never quite the same!

Asafoetida or hing is used extensively to give a special flavour to Andhra food. Asafoetida is a gum-resin derived from the roots of the umbelliferous plants of the Ferula genus, plants that were originally from Afghanistan and Persia. They grow there upto five to six feet high. When they are four years old, the stems are cut or slit near the root for the milky gum to ooze out and become solid oleogum resin. It turns reddish brown after drying and its sulphur compound creates a strong odour. It grows also in the Mediterranean region, and in Kashmir. Just a tiny amount in sambar, while it is cooking, pervades the whole house, so one must be careful to put in just a pinch of it and not more!

It is the use of distinctive spices which creates different flavours in the cuisine of Andhra, and subtle regional variations in taste and aroma. A typical formal vegetarian Andhra meal would include a pulihora or vegetable pulao, one savoury dish of okra, brinjal or beans of any variety, one vegetable curry of yam and carrots or a dhapalam of several vegetables, one lentil (dal) dish with lots of gravy, a pulisu which could have botde gourd and tomatoes in it, followed by a light rasam to be eaten with plain boiled rice and a dish of curds. Rasam used to be made in lead containers to impart a particular flavour, but now the use of aluminium or lead for cooking is not encouraged as they are believed to do harm to one's health. The menu would also include poriyal, a finely chopped salad of vegetables seasoned with mustard and salt and garnished with freshly grated coconut.

A formal non-vegetarian meal includes one dish of biryani or pulihora or vegetable pulao, one dish of chicken or meat with rich savoury ingredients, or a kabab, one seafood dish (optional), one curry of chicken or meat with gravy, a dish of lentils (dal) with gravy, which could have vegetables in it, two leafy or green vegetable dishes, one of which could be okra, broad beans or cluster beans or beans of any variety, or, if in season, jackfruit, a dish of poriyal and one dish of rasam, which is light and very liquid, served and eaten with plain boiled rice. If biryani is served, there is also boorani, which is curd with chopped vegetables, or else a dish of plain curd.

Accompaniments to both meals would include vadialu crispies, papaddom (crisp, fried thin wafers of savoury gram flour or rice flour), green chillies soaked in curd, dried and fried crisp, called majiga mirpakayalu, achar (pickle) or chutney, or both. Dessert is likely to be a payasam and Jehangiri jalebis or laddoos or shahi tukre.

The food of the rich coastal belt of Machlipatnam, Vishakapatnam and Kakinada is quite different from that of the dry areas of Rayalaseema; it includes fish, and the food has more coconut and has less chillies. The food of Kurnool and Cuddapa is biased towards the vegetarian. The most favoured oil here is the sesame (gingelly or til) oil. It is used in almost all dishes, and even for the special laddoos for Karthik Purnima and other festivals. In Rayalaseema too, the cuisine is largely vegetarian. As the rainfall is often sparse and food is scarce, in many homes they eat very simple food. A meal could consist of curd, boiled rice, the avakkai mango pickle, with a little of the sour green leafy gongura, or puntikura as it is known in the Telengana region, which is often cooked with Bengal gram. A simpler meal consists of balls of ground, cooked millet dipped in the gravy of a vegetable curry.

The Rajus, who are Kshatriyas, have slightly different food. They are non-vegetarian, and their food contains more garam masala, but they enjoy vegetables as well. In fact they have a jackfruit pulao which is delicious. Fish is very popular, especially the fresh water fish in the rich Godavari river belt. A large number of vegetables are also grown in this area and the food contains more chillies, but milk is added to the curries, giving them a delicate flavour.

The Kapu or Reddy commuity of Telangana have a variety of non-vegetarian food. They like to celebrate and observe their customs with elaborate care and attention to detail. They serve the traditional sweets such as padrapeni, a light flaky sweet, the bakshalu made of boiled, mashed and fried lentils inside a pastry, or a payasam of milk, sugar and rice with cardamoms. Time and care are spent on the preparation of pickles of which the famous avakkai and other red hot mango achars are in such demand that non-resident Indians place orders for them a year in advance!

Ceremonies and Celebrations

Not too long ago, in the rural areas of Telengana, when a baby was born in the village mansion of the Raja, the boom of cannons would resound through the village. Children would rejoice and cheer for they knew that bags of sugar would be brought out and distributed throughout the village. According to Hindu tradition, the father of the baby performs the Jatakarma Saniskara prayers as thanksgiving, and also for the child's future good health and good fortune. The other rituals are the baby's first massage with sesame oil, when two drops of lime juice are squeezed into its eyes to clear them, and a drop of oil put into its ears. In the case of a girl child, the mother's placenta is rubbed over the child's body immediately after birth, for (in Telengana) this is believed to prevent the growth of hair on the body. At the Namakaranam when the child is named, its horoscope is read out, and the father traces the child's name on a tray of rice. Each relative dips a teaspoon in honey, and dabs a little on the mouth of the baby. The baby licks the honey up very happily!

A woman usually spends the first ten days after childbirth in her parents' house. Traditionally, when the new mother returns to her husband's home after childbirth, her parents make a variety of sweet dishes of which arisellu and salimiddi are both made from rice flour and jaggery. Salimiddi is also given to strengthen the young mother before and after childbirth. She is kept warm and massaged with a powdered aromatic turmeric named kasturi pasupu, which is mixed with sesame oil. The excess oil is rubbed off with a powder called besan which is made of dried orange peels and lentils which have been soaked in milk and dried in the sun. Children and growing girls also use this, and I used this mixture rather than soap for my face, throughout my growing years. I never had a pimple on my face and it would leave the skin fresh and glowing.

Anaprasan is an occasion when a child is given its first solid food when it is five months and six days old: a payasam which is made of rice cooked well with milk and sugar. When the baby starts to crawl it is again a day of celebration, and round, spongy, fried lentil vadas called garelu are made and distributed.

The symbolic significance of food is particulary apparent at wedding ceremonies. In a Hindu ceremony for instance, rice, coconuts, betel leaves and betel nuts are placed on the laps of the bride and groom or in their hands as symbols of fertility and of plenty. This is also done at the time when the groom seeks final and formal sanction for marriage from the bride's parents, and it is granted. The bride puts her hands in the groom's and dry fruit, nuts and a coconut are put on top and covered with flowers, after which milk is poured over. At the end of the ceremony, after prayers and numerous rituals, the bride and groom drink water out of the same glass and share a banana in a symbolic gesture of sharing.

In the fifth month of a woman's pregnancy when her parents come to visit, they bring spicy and sour dishes, one of which is the pulihora dish of savoury, sour flavoured rice. Because a pregnant girl usually feels sick and does not feel like eating anything, she is likely to be tempted by sour and non-greasy food! Her parents also bring a tray of dried fruit, nuts and sweets for their son-in-law.

Among most communities in Andhra, before a formal house-warming or Griha Pravesh, it is customary to leave a jar of water in the house overnight. Some people also take a betel-nut box with betel leaves and nuts and various condiments, to make a wish for the good things of life to be present in the new home. Water is sprinkled all over the house, and sometimes a cow is led through every room. This is another symbol of plenty for the new home. Milk is then boiled in the new kitchen and allowed to brim over and overflow, a sign of hope for food to be plentiful in the home. Rice and sugar are added and cooked with the milk and then distributed, but only after the puja or prayers have been read for peace and happiness for those who are to live in the house.

All the religious festivals of the various communities are celebrated with zest. Some of these are observed with special zest by the people of Andhra. Ugadi is the New Year of the Telugu calendar which begins with the new moon, sometime between the months of March and April. It is customary on Ugadi day to savour a variety of flavours in food that symbolize the different experiences of life. Bananas and jaggery are eaten to represent sweetness, raw mangoes and tamarind represent sourness, and the flowers and leaves of the neem or margosa tree are eaten for bitterness. Chutneys and pickles are made and served, and tamarind pulp is mixed with melted jaggery, dried in the sun and served as a sweet and sour snack. Ugadi is the time when astrologers are requested to predict events in the year ahead, both for individuals and also for the state, and there are large gatherings for special sessions of such predictions.

Another festival, this one full of flowers and colour, song and dance, is the Bonalu festival when the seven goddesses Yellamma, Makali, Poshamma, Maisamma, Peddamma, Gauramma and Durgamma are worshipped. A flower-adorned conical structure is made, anywhere between two and six feet tall. This is set up over a small mound of jaggery, turmeric and lentils on betel leaves. A tilak (a black or red dot) is put on the mound as it represents the goddess Gauramma. The high outer structure over this mound is covered with row upon row of colourful flowers. This flower bedecked structure is called a Bathkamma, and is placed in an open area in front of the house. Girls and women dance around it singing special songs. Each Bathkamma is then carried in a procession to a temple dedicated to one of the sister goddesses and then to be immersed in a lake. A gay, fast drumbeat keeps all those in the procession swaying and dancing. One man keeps lashing his back, and other men carry twigs of the margosa or neem tree, supposed to be the favourite tree of the goddess. As the drum beats get fester and the dance more frenzied, occasionally a woman starts to sway and chant. Sometimes she goes into a kind of trance and starts foretelling events. Finally when they reach home there is a grand feast with mutton or lamb curry and rice.

At most festivals in Andhra big semolina laddoos and bobbatlu, a sweet made of wheat flour stuffed with cooked lentils, jaggery, cardamom and ghee are prepared. For the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi there is a different speciality. The pulp of the wood apple or kaveet fruit is extracted and mashed into a paste, then mixed with jaggery and served. On Sankranti or Pongal, which is celebrated as a harvest festival in mid-January, and on the day before Sankranti, called Bhogi, rice and milk are boiled symbolically and allowed to keep bubbling and boiling up. For this is when Surya the sun god is worshipped, in the belief that the suns movement to the north signifies a surging ahead or progress. On Bhogi which is a day for happy gatherings, families go on picnics, relax and sit on swings. The sky comes alive with soaring kites flown by young and old. All old, dirty or worn-out articles in the house are removed on Bhogi day. This is a symbol of cleansing the mind of impure thoughts and wrong action, and resolutions are taken to pursue better days and better ways.

The muslim month of Ramzan is the month of fasting when restaurants start serving haleem in the evenings. This is a special dish of wheat with lamb's meat, cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon cooked into a porridge, which is served garnished with fried onions, mint and slices of lime. But first, after a day of forbearance and the conscious practice of good deeds stressing Rahman and Raheem, kindness and mercy, one break one's day-long fast with a pinch of salt followed by water and a nourishing helping of ripe dates. Or one could have kachaloo, a mixture of chopped fruit sprinkled with salt and pepper or a dish of cooked dry savoury dal with chopped onions and lime juice sprinkled over.

Whether it be a religious occasion or a normal day in the house, food is obviously central to the rhythm of life. I can only hope that the recipes in this book will whet the reader's appetite and stimulate her taste buds as they have mine, and indeed of all those who have sampled Andhra food over the years.

Savour the tantalizing flavours of Andhra cuisine

While Hyderabadi cuisine with its distinctive Mughlai flavour is famous around the world, food from the other parts of Andhra, one of India's largest and culturally most diverse states, remains relatively unknown. In this addition to the Penguin series on Indian food and customs, the author brings together for the first time the different tastes of Andhra cooking from the humble idli-sambar to spicy seafood delicacies. Along with the recipes she recounts the traditions and rituals associated with food, such as the right order in which to serve the dishes, a typical menu for an occasion such as Ugadi, and the sweets indigent on certain auspicious days. From the dishes traditionally prescribed for pregnant women, to the festivities surrounding birth and marriage, Bilkees I. Latif describes with knowledge and flair the cuisine and customs of her state.

The more than 200 recipes, lucidly written and easy to follow, include:

Amrit PhalAvakkai

Badam ki Jaali

Bagharey Baingan


Gosht ka Achar


Kachi Biryani

Meen Godavari


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