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    The East Enders

    “Now this is the site where the body of Jack the Ripper’s fifth victim was found,” declares Emily, my guide at the Eating London food tour. That gets our complete

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  • Poppies

    Remains of the day

    Among the stories at the ‘Voices of the First World War’ exhibition at the Brighton Museum, is that of Subedar Manta Singh, who served with the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs. Manta,

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  • Temple

    Ringing in the new

    On any given Friday evening, Mylapore is at its festive best. Men dressed in white dhotis (unstitched cotton garments knotted at the waist and allowed to fall free), with thick

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  • Hanging on

    Losing the fear of flying

    I had never thought I would find myself 65 metres above the ground, hanging on for dear life. And doing this of my own volition. I am not the particularly

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  • Raja's Palace

    Film trail in Chettinad

    At the ‘Periya Veedu’ (Big House) at Athangudi, the caretaker rubbed his fingers together as soon as he spotted me getting off the car. It took me a moment to

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  • Remarkable Rocks

    Roos of the game

    I so want the life Tim Williams has. He drives people around Kangaroo Island, showing them the local colour that comes in the shape of kangaroos and koalas, seals and

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  • The Lunchbox1

    Food for thought

    “Food is music to the body; music is food to the heart,” Gregory David Roberts wrote in Shantaram, his 2003 novel commended by many for its vivid portrayal of life

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  • Yodelers

    The Swiss Sound of Music

    Matthias Ammann puts his hands into his pockets, smiles at us, and yodels effortlessly. Of course he would. He has been yodeling since the age other children learn to gurgle

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  • Tiramisu

    Roman banquet

    My food walk in Rome begins with a near death-by-dessert experience. It is a balmy summer morning and our small group has met in front of a bar in Testaccio.

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  • Ghent3

    Footloose in Flanders

    If Eat, Pray, Love was a town, it would be Bruges. So pretty, so picture postcard that some guidebooks have described it as touristy and a tad fake. Our guide

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The hidden heart of Hyderabad

Novelist Doris Lessing felt pearls mean tears. In Hyderabad, it meant the laughter and glory of the Nizams. From the time they welcomed pearl merchants from the Arabian markets, Hyderabad has been the Pearl City. However, more interesting and lesser known is the story of the diamonds that light up the city’s history.

Take the Koh-i-noor, one of the world’s largest diamonds. It was once stored at Golkonda, just a hop, skip and jump (or a bumpy auto-rickshaw ride) away from the Nizam’s capital. Golkonda, then a mini town, was also the administrative seat of various dynasties, since the mid 10th century. It was only in the late 16th century that Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah moved a few miles and established the city of Hyderabad, building the Charminar at its core.

Charminar

But this morning, I am not in the heart of Hyderabad to discuss diamonds with historians or purchase pearls from jewellers. I make my way towards Charminar, its four minarets casting a watchful eye over the neighbourhood. Walking through the narrow shopping lanes branching out from this tower is a sensory overload, pleasurable in a way that is purely Indian.

I have ambled through these lanes several times before, ignoring the cacophony of traffic and spindrift of people brushing past me. I have enjoyed the burst of bling from the bangles at Laad Bazaar, their glass, metal and lac twinkling in the sunlight. I have laughed at the way canny shopkeepers call out to “just come in, madam, dekhne ka paisa nahi lagta,” knowing fully well that to see is to succumb.

Laad Bazaar

Bangles

I have no favourites here, though. Nor have I known if any one of the shops is better than the others. I suspect this is how it is with most outside visitors to this area.

This time, it is different. At the Taj Krishna, where I am staying, they have put together a little exploration of the old city’s inscrutable streets. So I am on a “Deccan Odyssey” with Raize, Hyderabad’s first female tourist guide.

On our way to the Charminar, I quiz Raize, a Hyderabadi recently married to a Lucknowi, about the difference between the two styles of biryani. Raize’s loyalty clearly lies with her maika, as she declares that the Hyderabadi biryani—cooked for hours, with heaps of patience and generous sprinklings of secret ingredients—is the real McCoy.

Strolling around Charminar in the company of a local is a novel experience for me. Our first stop is at Nimrah café and bakery, an Iranian chai point, right next to Mecca Masjid. It is that no-man’s time between breakfast and lunch, but Nimrah is a veritable beehive. Men of all ages stand outside gossiping, as they sip on chai poured on to saucers. Inside, tray after tray of piping hot biscuits, cookies and dilpasand are brought out from the desi oven, to be displayed on the counters.

Nimrah

OsmaniaI get to sample a bit of this and a bit of that, all of it still warm and fragrant. The specialty here is the melt-in-the-mouth Osmania biscuits, the favourite of Hyderabad’s last and risibly eccentric Nizam.

In my many visits to this area, I have never noticed Nimrah. And I know that on my own, I would never have stepped inside. I leave clutching a box of Osmania, a gift from the gracious owner Abood Bin Aslam, “Hyderabad ki taraf se.”

Then we head into the throbbing mass of humanity that is Laad bazaar, where Raize imparts interesting trivia about how it got its name. Popular belief is that it is derived from lacquer (laad) which is used in the bangles this market is renowned for.

However, I prefer Raize’s theory that the bazaar was set up as a shopping destination by our old friend Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah for his daughter Laad’s wedding to Aurangazeb’s son. Even today, Laad Bazaar serves as the hub for trousseau shopping for many Hyderabadi brides.

We shop at Nayeem Bangles; an incredible collection, from the very subtle and classy to the cheerfully glittering and sparkly crammed into a small shop. Here, there is no oversell as they let the trinkets speak for themselves.

Nayeems

Choice

KharchobJust down the road is Afzal Miyan Karchobwale’s Lace Centre, here since 1951. Now run by the grandson of the original entrepreneur, this shop is legendary for its karchob (hand embroidery) work, not just among ordinary wedding shoppers but also among the rich and famous.

I hear whispers that Afzal Miyan’s craft—exquisite zardosi and delicate lace embroidery has patrons ranging from Princess Esra to Sabyasachi Mukherjee. I also learn that in this tiny space, some of the fabric that glitters is actually gold; from borders on saris to bridal khada dupattas.

Afzal Mian

Since we begin the tour with food, we also end it with a pit-stop at Navrang for a sachet of their biryani masala. For a shop that stocks condiments, nuts and spices, it is quirkily named Navrang Colour Merchant. The owner has never revealed the secret of his “Special Hyderabad Old City Biryani Masala” made of 15 spices, which guarantees a sublime biryani.

I catch a whiff of it and I can tell you this. The battle of the biryanis may never get resolved, but don’t leave Hyderabad without a stash of this masala.

Biryani masala

Lonely Planet, in choosing Hyderabad as one of the top 10 destinations for 2013, had said, “Elegant and blossoming, but also weathered and undiscovered, Hyderabad’s Old City is ripe for exploration.” Truly, Hyderabad reveals its charms slowly and bashfully to the visitor. Beyond the teeming masses and eager vendors, the old city has a warm heart.

For details on the Deccan Odyssey, email krishna.hyderabad@tajhotels.com

***
Published in The New Sunday Express Magazine on November 16, 2014 as Time’s Own Trinket

A bite of bunny chow

Most of my mealtimes during my South Africa trip were spent looking at colleagues tuck into all varieties of meat, from ostrich to wildebeest, while I quietly ate the pasta or salad put in front of me. I did have one Indian dinner at The Ocean Terrace restaurant at the upmarket Oyster Box but that was a dubious “curry buffet” and not the most satisfying meal.

One of my most delightful Durban experiences came in the form of the bunny chow. Or bunny, as locals call it. For example, “Let’s go for a quick bunny lunch” (asking for “bunny chow” immediately marks you out as an outsider, I am told).

What is bunny chow?

Nothing to do with rabbits or indeed with any form of meat. It is simply a hollowed loaf of bread – usually a quarter – filled with curry that could be vegetables and kidney beans, chicken, lamb or mutton.

The origins of this dish are unknown, with many theories floating around. The most popular one is that Indian labourers working in the sugarcane plantations of Kwazulu Natal (a region in South Africa, of which Durban is the capital) found it difficult to carry an elaborate lunch with them. So, a clever housewife decided to make a one dish meal of bread and curry that can be eaten with the hands.

As for the name, it is believed to have originated from the word “bania” – although you will hear stories of this dish being invented by a Mr. Bunny from India! And for a bit of trivia: today, Durban has the largest Indian community outside India.

How is bunny chow made?

It is one of the easiest snacks to make – I should actually call it a meal, because a quarter loaf of bunny chow is enough to keep you going from lunch till dinner. And remember, the bunny chow was born out of a need for convenience.

So, here is the bunny chow in five easy steps:

1. Scoop

Scoop

2. Arrange

Arrange

3. Fill

Fill

4. Garnish

Garnish

5. Serve

Serve

And Bob’s your uncle! Or should I say, Bunny’s your chacha!

The National Geographic rates it among the top ten culinary experiences in Durban – as a vegetarian, I would go further and extend it to all of South Africa.

They also call it “lip-searing spicy curry” and perhaps by Western standards, the filling is a bit fiery. But certainly not by our palates conditioned by “Everest ka tikha lal” masalas. But I do agree with this bit in the article: “It’s hot, messy, and impossible to eat without using both hands and lots of napkins” – if you want to eat it daintily with a fork and spoon, you may as well forget it and go find something more amenable to cutlery.

Where should I try bunny chow?

Bunny chow is available everywhere in Durban, and these days, in other South African cities too. Locals swear by Goundens, although I tried it at The Oriental, which also came highly recommended. It is a small place inside a shopping mall, designed for a quick eat or take-away experience. The manager kindly allowed me into the kitchens with my camera once I expressed curiosity about the chow-making process.

Oriental

I had the vegetarian version, with a generous filling of a curry (how I hate that word!) loaded with vegetables and rajma, and spiced gently with Indian masalas. I had a tough time managing the mess but hey, that’s part of the fun. And I have to say, this bunny was absolutely delicious.

The Wall Street Journal thinks highly enough of this “sloppy, savory, eat-it-with-your-hands Indian curry dish” to carry a piece on finding the best bunny chow in Durban.

So, if you ever head to South Africa, go find yourself a bunny.

Friday photo: Boudhanath

One of the (few) nice things about living in Gurgaon is being able to take off for long weekends. The husband had five days off for Dusshera – which came conveniently around Gandhi Jayanti and some other festival – and so we headed off to Nepal. More on the Nepal trip soon.

For now, an image from one of my favourite experiences: a morning at the Boudhanath stupa…

Boudhanath

Also see: Friday photo series

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