This post is a part of the What’s On My Plate series
Picture: Kishore Amati
A clay pot of biryani on display at Latitude
This week, I address a journey of a different kind. It’s a throwback to a time spent in a more ‘foreign’ land. I’ve lived in Hyderabad long enough to be able to understand the native food. Well, at least long enough to know how to identify that I’m partaking of the ‘real deal’.
At Latitude, the restaurant at Vivanta by Taj in Panjim, there is a festival on at the moment, one that celebrates the cuisine of the aforementioned region. Now, the Taj group of hotels has a policy of not doing these things in an ad hoc manner, and has certain chefs marked as ambassadors to showcase certain kinds of cuisine. Chef Urbano Rego has long since been one such individual, taking Goan cuisine to the world. In similar vein, Chef Abdul Khader Jeelani is their ambassador for Hyderabadi cuisine, and was flown in Goa to handcraft the dishes for the festival. As such, one may forgive my enthusiasm for diving right in.
Having arrived upon said premises, I decided to start my meal with a Paya Shorbha, a lamb broth made using the shanks of the animal. Now one must understand that the shanks form an integral part of this dish, and while they may not be attractive to look at, they add a flavour to the broth, which is by far the most intense that I have come across in a soup, thus far, bouillabaisse and several other bisques included. This is the perfect way to begin your meal, as it quite literally opens up the passages that lead to one’s stomach in preparation of a hearty meal.
I’ve always been sceptical about mutton, as I find that it doesn’t always agree with me. However, the chef reassured me that the quality of meat was up to scratch, otherwise he wouldn’t have made the trip in the first place. The Boti Kebab Husani that he went on to place upon my plate, reaffirmed that, as the morsels of kid leg of mutton, marinated overnight and slow cooked in the tandoor were literally melted in the mouth, making me wonder whether they had been liquefied.
Convinced by the sheer quality of the produce, I dived straight into another mutton dish, the Pathar Ka Gosht. This is an escalope of kid lamb, subjected to 48 hours of marination, before being cooked on a hot stone. This is apparently a recipe from the Nizami era that was perfected in the Falaknuma kitchens. It certainly found perfection at the hands of Chef Jeelani, who so far had gotten 3/3 right.
To deviate from mutton, the chef thrust forward a dish of Murgh Shikanja Kebab. This fresh herb-marinated chicken breast is cooked in an iron press on an open char grill, before being served alongside a roasted pepper sauce. The tenderness of the meat is again a testament to the chef’s skill, as it is easy to overcook a chicken breast, leaving the meat dry, which was most assuredly not the case here.
Up next was possibly my favourite dish from the city: Haleem. Served alongside an unleavened bread called sheermal, this dish is made up of slow-cooked ground meat, wheat and lentils and is served traditionally, during Ramadan. The dish is incredibly heavy, and if you’re planning on ordering it, it’s advisable to ordering nothing else. The odds are, you won’t be able to handle anything else. However, owing to a large cavernous space where my stomach should be, I miraculously managed to order a Dum Ka Murgh, which comprises chicken made with onions, cashew nuts and clarified butter, which is (as most things on this menu are) cooked to perfection over slow-heat.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. No Hyderabadi meal is ever complete without biryani. On this menu, one gets to order the Hyderabadi Kachche Gosht Ki Biryani, made of lamb that has marinated overnight before being cooked in a sealed brass pot, after having been layered with fragrant basmati rice. What’s more, apart from the usual raita, at Latitude, you’re also served Mirch Ka Salan, a banana, pepper, peanut and sesame curry, which is not unlike the dipping sauce one is served beside a satay dish.
I managed to end my meal with the Nawabi Gulab ki Phirni. I couldn’t resist ordering it as it is something not easily found on most menus in Goa, and even when it is, it is excessively sweetened. Here, it is prepared as a traditional rice phirni should be, mildly flavoured, and with a hint of rose.
All in all, I know that Hyderabadi cuisine is considered ‘nawabi’. And this meal in particular, is certainly one that is fit for a king.
There is plenty of dilution when it comes to representing food from various regions. However, what is on offer at Latitude is certainly the real deal, courtesy Chef Jeelani's endeavours.
The biryani is drier than the kind that most audiences are used to, in keeping with the style that is popular in the cities of Hyderabad as well as Lucknow.
The average cost of a meal for two (minus the libations) would be an approximate of ₹3,000 (at the time of publishing this review).
How to get there
Off D. B. Bandodkar Road, Santa Inez, Panjim, Goa 403001
Food is a huge part of any culture and for me, chancing upon a good meal is synonymous with having a great day. The What’s On My Plate series of posts is where I discuss food, great places to eat, and anything gastronomically moving. This could be anything from a great place to eat, to an obscure kind of food, to an origin story. After all, there is no love like the love of eating.