Telegana cooking has long been overshadowed by the Hyderbadi cuisine. But now this underrated rustic, spicy, pungent cuisine is getting the recognition it truly deserves. It is now at long last being viewed as a distinct and sophisticated form of cooking in its own right, with explosive new tastes and textures, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian and not the unrefined country cousin image it so long laboured under.
But what are the qualities that distinguish Telegana food from the neighbouring cuisines and what is its unique contribution to Hyderbadi style of cooking?
The two singular aspects of this cuisine are the dependence on tamarind and chillies. This may appear straightforward and unexceptional. After all, most Indian cuisines use tamarind and chillies; but not in the same way Telegana chefs use them. For one, not only the fruit, but tamarind flowers and seeds are used in the cooking. The fruit of the tamarind is made into chutneys and can be used for drinks. The seeds can be ground into flour to make naan or unleavened bread. The most prized variety of tamarind is the ‘Lal’ or red imli.
If tamarind — the souring agent — is one of the pillars of Telegana cuisine, the other is the red chili. The variety of red chili most closely identified with this cuisine is the koraivikaram (“the flaming stick”), which is native to Guntur. The combination of these two elements, the sour and the hot, give Telangana cuisine its particular USP.
There are other ingredients as well. The gongura leaf (also known as Ambada). This is the leaf of the rozelle, with the most stunning flowers. The gongura ghosht is delicious and for the vegetarian, the gongura beautifully compliments the channa dal. One of the most aromatic green chutneys is made from the gongura. Hing is used extensively in Telegana cooking and adds to the pungency.
Telegana cuisine is not just influenced by the various communities and castes of to the region, but also by the proximity to water. The cuisine in the coastal areas of Vizag and Kakinada is more fish-based. Coconut is used more liberally than chillies. The fish most used is river fish, such as the Rahu, bony but delicious.
The other favourite is the Murrel. The Raju community of Telangana are great fish eaters. In fact, their cuisine is distinguished by the variety of dishes they make, including the most delicious vegetarian pulao made from jackfruit.
The Reddys of Telegana have a variety of non-vegetarian food. Most of these are variations on the traditional spicy Andhra food, including a very hot and distinctive biryani, and their very pungent chicken curry, Oorru Kodi Pulusu. They are particularly noted for the sweets, including the very distinctive padrapeni, light and flaky. It’s a pity that with the exception of Dakshin [the south Indian restaurant] in the Grand Maratha, it is difficult to sample any of these dishes in Mumbai.