The Mandi is one of Hyderabad’s best kept secrets. Everyone talks about Hyderabadi biryani, but there’s so much more to this city and its cuisine. Barkas used to be this infamous part of town ruled by Pehelwans. Hyderabadi equivalent to the Bombay Bhai and no one except the initiated ventured into Barkas. It was also infamous for other things, but that was Barkas of old.
Mini Yemen in Hyderabad
Barkas is the only area in entire Hyderabad which’s not flooded with biryani joints. What rules here is Mandi, Kabsa and Majboos. Arab / Yemeni styles of rice preparation that’re integral to the cuisine and ethos of Barkas
The name Barkas some say, is the corrupted version of barracks, in which the the Arab army of the Nizam used to live in. This army of Arabs was also the Royal guard and were given the title of Chaush or Palace officers. Some say Barkas is the name of a place in Yemen. The Chaush are descendants of Hadhrami Arabs from Yemen. They’ve been in India for many years; possibly centuries. Some historians say that they were part of the Maratha army and also of the Bahmani Sultanate, who ruled over those parts much before the Marathas
After the Marathas lost to the British in the third Ango-Maratha war of 1818, many of these Hardhrami Arabs moved to Hyderabad to be part of the Nizam’s army. As a culture, they’ve kept to themselves and even today, many of them live in and around Barkas and you hardly see other communities in the area
Mandi at Barkas
Mataam-Al-Arabi is one of the pioneers in the art of cooking the Barkas style of Mandi. They’ve just shifted to a big-new-swanky building, but at heart remain a typical-humble Mandi place. The Mandi is a traditional Yemeni / Saudi style of cooking rice, where the rice’s cooked in a vessel kept in an earthen pit. Meat (Laham-Goat or Faham-Chicken) is kept on top of a wire mesh on top of the vessel. Wooden logs are used to produce heat and this entire arrangement is covered with a lid and mud is put on top to seal the pit. The meat cooks slowly over a few hours in the latent heat in the pit and the rice gets flavoured by the juices dropping from the meat. The resulting texture of the meat’s quite stunning. Crisp on the exterior and soft inside and falling-off-the-bone.
The rice is quite flavourful but isn’t masala heavy like many Indian dishes. At the same time, this ain’t some bland Arab dish. The Barkas Mandi is an Indian dish in every right and respect. That comes from its local sensibilities and flavours. The raw tomato chutney served alongside is a must to mix with the Mandi. Fried Bater or Quail is also a must have.
Barkas is one-of-a-kind experience that you can only find within this part of Hyderabad. There are many places outside of Barkas and Shaheen Nagar, which now serve the dish. But the real fun’s sitting on the carpeted floor in a big hall that’s typical of Mandi restaurants and sharing the food with friends in the big thal that comes.
You can find more details on Mataam-Al-Arabi here.
Here’s a recipe of home style Hyderabadi Mandi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpLtTMexfzo
Happy hunting and Chowder-on!!