Hyderabad: For those well-acquainted with Hyderabad, it's often nicknamed a foodie's paradise. But before you draw your conclusions and crown the famous Hyderabadi biryani for the entire credit, it's worth giving another contender a well deserving chance. The local Telugu or Andhra cuisine.
They say if you truly want to understand a place and its people, taste the local food. Made from locally available produce, in traditional methods that offer a glimpse of its history, culture, and even climate, local cuisine is a place served on a platter. And traditional Telugu cuisine, in a well-realised understatement, is a heady concoction of taste that titillates your senses.
One of the best places to try authentic Andhra food in Hyderabad is Rayalaseema Ruchulu. A chain of restaurants that began its journey back in 2004, this place is flocked by locals - a testimony to its authenticity - and has gained prominence among visitors as well.
A pleasant decor, with none of the over-the-top frills, the first glance over the menu may be a bit overwhelming. Not just because the list is long - 157 items - but also because of the non-familiarity of some of the names. In certain places the English subtitles help, in others the friendly staff is ever obliging.
Among the must-haves here, and if you are a non-vegetarian, is the Gongura Mamsam (mutton). Gongura is sorrel leaves, and this is a spicy, tangy, kind of preparation that is very different and yet authentic to this region. The Mamsam Pulusu, which is mutton curry cooked the Andhra style, is again a must-try. A simple dish that is cooked in most homes, the distinct aroma comes from the mutton being simmered in spices and tamarind and is a perfect accompaniment with steamed rice.
A word of caution: Andhra style of cooking, especially if you are talking about non-vegetarian fare, is fiery hot, and so one can either request for "less spicy" (as recommended by the restaurant's managing director, B.V. Uttam Reddy) while placing the order, or, if you are really determined to get the "real taste", have a steady accompaniment of Majjiga or buttermilk to soothe your blazing mouth, like yours truly.
Various preparations of the country chicken are the restaurant's speciality, and the Natu Kodi Pulusu (country chicken curry) is a signature dish. For starters one can also try the Seema Kodi (speciality of the Rayalaseema region), the RR Special Kodi, and the Natu Kodi Vepudu which is country chicken marinated in spices and pan fried.
The restaurant also has a decent offer of seafood. The RR Special Prawns, for instance, is a tasty composition of batter fried prawns with chillies and peanuts; while the Sea Food Platter gives you a taste of variety. In case you want to get a taste of different preparations of different meat in one go, try the platters, which are offered in both the starters and the main course section.
Albeit limited, the menu's vegetarian section also gives a taste of the authentic food of the region. The Gutti Vankaya Kura, for instance, which is a tangy and spicy brinjal gravy is typically cooked in Andhra homes and is recommended, as well as the Bendakaya Masala (lady finger), both of which are also a part of the South Indian Veg Platter.
While Annam or steamed rice is best recommended as an accompaniment to the main course dishes, the menu also throws up an interesting variety of different kinds of pulao-mutton, minced mutton, chicken, country chicken, egg, and fish. But if you are in for the authentic stuff, try the Ragi Sangati, or a Ragi ball that is typical of the Rayalaseema region.
To finish it all off, the staff recommends the sweet Sorakaya halwa, which is made of bottle gourd.
While the name of the restaurant, and quite a number of dishes on its menu named after it, may lead one to think that it's the Rayalaseema region's food that is the focus, Reddy insists that they serve what is the authentic food cooked in any Andhra home.
"It's unfortunate that when people visit Hyderabad, it's always biryani, Irani chai, or Khubani ka Meetha that they are thinking about. And the reason is that Andhra cuisine is not known. My aim therefore is to introduce people to the local food of the region," Reddy says.
For the locals, who mostly make their big customer base, the food is "a journey back to their roots". "It's not easy selling local food locally. But the authentic flavours, and the local produce, help us bring back fond memories of childhood and of home-cooked food for most people. Plus the razor sharp pricing also helps".
It helps for sure, and also leaves you with an altered food memory of Hyderabad for a long time.