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A little Yemen in Hyderabad where Arabic food culture is thriving

Abdullah Bin Massod Bashadi (extreme right) with Winners of a lucky draw are honoured at restaurant Mataam Al –Arabi

Ratna G. Chotrani/Hyderabad

The Barkas locality in Hyderabad is home to a large population of Arab-origin people, mainly from Yemen. Today the tribe has assimilated into the local population, and yet retains its ethnic distinctive culture.

Interestingly, Barkas comes from the English word ‘barracks’ and there is a story behind it. During the Nizam’s rule, the Barkas served in the Military and lived in Barracks. The Chaush were brought from Yemen to work in the Nizam State of Hyderabad as military men. The 7th Nizam is said to have absolute trust in the Arabs. Though people in Barkas don’t speak Arabic anymore, they continue to serve Harees- particularly popular during Ramzan – to the guests; Gahwa (Arabic coffee) is their staple.

The locality of Barkas is a food lover’s paradise. It’s lined with humble and nondescript roadside shops and run-down restaurants selling delicious kebabs, biscuits, chai, and the famous Mandi. Whether it is an early morning breakfast or a late evening full meal, Barkas has got you covered.

Arabic dish Mandi

Although on the face of it, it may look like any other locality around the iconic Charminar, the Mandi and kebabs served here at the innumerable Mandi restaurants right from Barkas towards the shrine of Baba Sharfuddin on the southern tip of Hyderabad, show the deep impact of the Arab and especially Yemeni Diaspora on Hyderabad.

The chain of Mandi restaurants with glitzy exteriors and façades in Arabic architectural style has given it the nickname ‘Shehar–e –Mandi.’ Hundreds of foodies can be seen thronging to these eateries from early morning to almost all night on normal days. During Ramzan however, the eateries are open throughout the night serving the famous Mandi, which seems to be slowly overshadowing the indigenous Biryani and a leading dish of Dakkini cuisine.

This Yemeni dish was brought to Hyderabad as a business idea by the National football player Abdullah Bin Masood Bashadi. The simple-looking Abdullah Bin Masood hardly looks like a person who has created a chapter in the already rich and diverse food map of Hyderabad

Abdullah Bin Massod Bashadi says that the Arabic food was brought by his ancestors who migrated to Hyderabad under the Nizam, the 7th, and continue to retain a part of their lifestyle. They cooked the Arabic food at home and now its popularity has gone far beyond their household; it’s winning the hearts of non-Arabs too, he adds.

Restaurant serving Yemini food in Baraks locality, Hyderabad

Abdullah Bin Masood Bashadi recalls how his great-grandfather from the Bashadi tribe had migrated from Hadarmaut to Hyderabad. He says during one of his Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in 2008 when he met his consanguineous and tasted ‘real Mandi’. It’s at this point he thought of introducing it to the people of Hyderabad. His restaurant Mataam Al –Arabi has become the go-to destination for those wanting Arabic cuisine.

Originally a Yemeni rice and meat dish, Mandi has become a much sought-after among gourmands, with many restaurants offering Arabian delight.

Late evening in his restaurant, Abdullah Bin Masood taps the metal lid of the “underground stove” and with the help of an assistant, opens it with a crowbar. A blast of trapped steam wafts up, filling the air with flavours.

He waits for the steam to let go before pulling out a tray holding chunks of well-cooked chicken dripping with fat. At the bottom of the ‘kuzhi’ or charcoal pit, is a large vessel of spiced rice. “That’s the Mandi rice,” Abdullah says.

Mandi is perfectly spiced succulent chicken, layers on top of glistening flavourful rice, and garnished with fried onions, almonds, and raisins.  Not only food lovers but bloggers will make you curious enough to set out to get a taste of the famous Khabza and Mandi. Unlike Biryani it is not spice-heavy or oily but has a great aroma from the rice and the meat. 

Shwarma: another popular Arab dish

Harees Al-Hadhrami Restaurant is also famous for its typical Arabic breakfast dish ‘harees’ and one can see the kiln with embers ready to welcome its customers. These restaurants in Barkas serve a variety of Arabic cuisine such as Kabsa, Majboos –  a spiced rice dish that is served with chicken. The rice is flavourful but not spicy.

Maqluba Quzi comprises rice, vegetables, and meat, it is layered and cooked in a single pot and then flipped over for serving. Saleeq Rice is overcooked in chicken stock and full-fat milk and is served with roasted chicken and snacks like Shawarma, Falafel, and Mutabbq. They finish of their meals with the Arabic coffee called Qahwa

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Even as the night is still dark and a call of the muezzin from the tall minarets of mosques people in traditional Arab attire called Thawb or Dishdashah (long flowing robes) and colourful ghutras and amamas start streaming out of their homes to offer Fajr prayers and begin their fast.   

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