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In Hyderabad, food is not just something to fill the stomach; it is the very essence of life. The quintessential Hyderabad is known for its nawabi lifestyle--a gracious but rather laid-back way of life. Food is best created with fursat and mohabbat--with time and love. In Hyderabad you will rarely find a biryani carelessly overcooked to a sticky mush or left too dry. Every Hyderabadi cook worth his salan will test the quality of the biryani cooked by spraying a handful on the floor. Only if each grain of rice falls separately does it make the grade.

City also has the tradition of the 'midnight biryani', where close to the witching hour several hotels bring out large handis of biryani, which have been simmering on slow dum pukht for the better part of the day. These eat-all-you-can biryani buffets are very popular with late-night revelers. It has taken the highly developed and refined Mughal cuisine of the North and imbibed it with the zesty sauces and spices of the South to create a vast and seductive repertoire quite its own. Hyderabadi food, as it has come to be known, like the city's culture, heritage and language, is a melange of several influences--Hindu, Muslim, North, South, Indian and foreign.

Another Hyderabadi favorite, Haleem is obviously middle-eastern import is traditionally a mild, easily digested meat and wheat porridge eaten by Muslims for Iftar to break the Ramzan fast. But the delicious Hyderabadi reincarnation is a meal in itself, which besides being served at weddings and other celebrations, can be found the year round in almost all restaurants. Nehari is another famous food item readily available during Ramzan but harder to find the rest of the year. This is an exotic mix of local herbs and spices, including sandalwood powder, dried rose petals, khus or vevitar roots and a host of other things, which are all tied up in a muslin cloth and dropped into the soup as it simmers.

The Hyderabadis do have rather unusual ways of seasoning their food: in thirki dal, a piece broken off a freshly fired earthen pot is heated red and then added to the dal to give it a rich earthy aroma. Hyderabadi cuisine is admittedly far more non-vegetarian than vegetarian. It's not that the Hyderabadis don't eat vegetables; they just prefer to cook them with meat because they believe vegetables taste better that way. But the cuisine's vast repertoire does include classic vegetarian delights such as the baghare baigan, mirchi ka salan, achar ke aloo and tomato kutt. It also boasts of a wide range of dals, chutneys and pickles.

When you think about Hyderabadi sweets the first things that come to mind are double ka meetha and khubbani ka meetha. You might be tempted to think that the former gets its name from the generous amounts of sugar it's cooked in. However, it actually gets its name from the double roti--the common north Indian term for bread--used to make this dessert. Khubbani ka meetha is made from the pulp of apricots and is normally had with dollops of fresh cream or ice cream.

If you enjoy ice creams--not too creamy, more like fruit sorbets--then a visit to Famous Ice Cream at the Moazzamzai Market is a must. This Hyderabadi favourite is located in what used to once be the wholesale fruit and vegetable market. It's a rather basic looking ice cream parlour but it whips up some of the most delicious fruit sorbets. Opposite the ice cream shop is the Karachi bakery. Its signboard still proudly advertises the royal patronage it once enjoyed from the Nizams.