I could have typed ‘flavour’ 500 times and ended this but that would’ve been the harder way out, for writing about Hyderabad is like effortless gliding, fluid and comfortable as the city makes you feel. I have been fortunate to have had two first impressions of the city – one around the turn of the millennium as a tourist and another more recently as a long-term resident in a sparkling new metropolis beyond the Jubilee Hills checkpost. As they normally go, impressions are biased and mine emerged from endless comparisons with Bangalore justified by similar names of localities, the regional script, a brand new Metro line in the making and an economic boom sustaining immigration in thousands by the day with construction surging to keep up. There ended the similarity and the bias.
Hyderabad masquerades as a nonchalantly ordinary city under a blanket of normal, but on second glance you will notice that nearly everything it offers is larger than life. The erstwhile Deccan capital boasts of regal splendour and cutting edge technology on either side with a well-planned near-Utopia in between - gardens I still suspect are forests, a lake the size of a small bay, stores with display signs larger than a Bandra eatery, a fort probably in driving distance of your workplace and drive you will want to on its large tree-covered avenues wondering if the huge boulders that line them make for rock climbing (some do). Between rocks and water, you may discover the pleasure of sailing or even find a nice watering hole to enjoy the sunset with a menu that was priced in the last decade. The people start late and end early, probably because they have little reason to leave the comfort of home, for homes here also fit into the larger-than-life theme of the city. Hyderabadis are a happy, non-interfering lot, accepting and eager to share a slice of their life – mostly tales on how fast the city grew, their last brush with a Telugu movie star, places that serve the best biryani but all concluding that it pales in comparison to the version made at home.
To talk about flavour here is to talk about biryani, and to talk about biryani is to address strong roots in culture, home and value systems. Such is the love for this dish that if news reports are to be believed, weddings have been called off and family ties have been severed over it. For a layperson on a project (and several consequent arguments) to find the ‘best’ biryani, the takeaway at the end of a year was that they are all exceptional, preference-based delicacies that just don’t taste the same outside the city. Thus dawned the realization that I have to journey all the way back to truly relish biryani again.
Another angle to exploring flavour in Hyderabad is the spice, and boy do they like their chilli here. Households, restaurants and the now ubiquitous food trucks all left me teary eyed with the little devil from Guntur that I picked out of all food with a vengeance, only to give up eventually and embrace its omnipresence in the local cuisine. The idli has it concealed in the chutney, pesarattu in its filling, seemingly innocent momos have them too, and then there’s the urban legend of chilli beer I did not dare pursue. Until recently, food culture dominated night life with lines of excellent trucks well open till the wee hours of morning, now turning into ‘food places’ after a night of brewery-hopping, clubbing or a late-night movie in the part of the country that has always had a certain fondness for cinema.
Hyderabad is one of the few cities that spoil you for choice, particularly choice of pace. Given a choice, I’d have never left.