A meaty battle

Will home-grown nombu kanji beat haleem, a Persian import?

Haleem makes the world go round. Don’t believe me? Just grab a bowl of Hyderabadi haleem and let the aroma and thick, creamy texture envelop your senses. Meaty and hearty, it’s the perfect pick me up. It isn’t pedestrian like kanji. Haleem is, to put it concisely, royal.

A meaty battle

It might have come from Persia, but it has been tweaked to give it a robust Indian punch. Friends who fast for Ramzan say it’s the perfect way to end a day-long fast, rich and nutritious… not to mention simply delicious. Smooth, robust with the flavour of meat, wheat and the choicest spices and ghee. Little wonder then it has won hearts not just in the city of Nizams but has made its way across the world… you have restaurants in Canada serving Hyderabadi haleem!

Heck, the dish has gained so much popularity, you have restaurants in Chennai whipping up haleem every Ramzan and proudly proclaiming that theirs is the most authentic. Make a quick trip to the city of Nizams one Ramzan and you’ll be struck by the festive feel in the air. Large bhattis spring up across Hyderabad, in every alley and street corner. And dare I say, Chennai is pretty close to following suit. Evenings are meant to head to one’s favourite haleem joint for a steaming bowl of stew; not gravy as those uninformed perceive it to be. Laughs are shared as are bowls of haleem and conversation. If that isn’t friendship, camaraderie and a sense of community, then what is?

Ranjani Rajendra waits all year for a bowl of haleem. For her, haleem is bae.

A meaty battle

Come Eid, I track down every last one of my Muslim friends for a plate of that delicious mutton biryani. But we ain’t talking about the undisputed king of entrée; we’re here arguing over the Iftar meritocracy of nombu kanji and haleem. There is no competition here. The porridge would TKO the gravy in all 14 million probabilities imagined by Dr Stephen Strange!

The kanji originated right here. It is the dish of the soil dating back over 2,000 years. It has the south Indian staple (rice) as its base. You can customise it with add-ons like veggies, lentils, and most importantly, meat. The spice and aroma is courtesy biryani masala. The best way to consume it is drinking it straight out of a steel bowl. The kanji is consumed to break the day’s fast. It is light on the gut, and prevents acid reflux in the digestive system. It is also an any time food. No gravy can ever be that!

Above all, the nombu kanji is a symbol of friendship, unity and brotherhood. After I was challenged to prove its merit over haleem, I took a trip on foot to Triplicane. It was way past the azan time, and nearly every space which provides kanji had run dry. That is when I walked into a gift shop asking if any roadside eatery in the neighbourhood would have stock. “Why brother, I have some for you! Here you go,” said the elderly shopkeeper in a skull cap. “Whenever you feel like having some more, do come by,” he added. I intend to return. Now, top that, gravy!

Pradeep Kumar is highly opinionated. Because opinions are free, and hence easy to have and give away.

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