a middle eastern magic
Hyderabad as a city is now embracing all sorts of cuisines buzzing all across the city and at the same time the visibility and options for influential cuisine is also increasing commendably. Middle eastern cuisine which is as united yet diversified as Indian cuisine is to make you go wow. Comprising of various sub cuisines like Iranian, Arab, Israeli, Armenian, Turkish and many more. Often confusing these cuisines are conceived as one and its all to do with exploring on their history and understanding food. Hyderabad has lots of varieties of Arabic and other middle eastern cuisine as the crazy for Mandi (traditional dish from Yemen of meat, rice, and spices) amongst the cyber crowd and craze behind eating more than you can.
Banjara Hills gets its own premise for middle eastern dining experience with AQASA located at road no 3 above Almond house (landmark). As you enter, you tend to expect Arabic theme but AQASA wins me over in the artistry over the middle eastern theme. The subtle water fountain spreading the aura of water dripping gently and the colorful n vibrant "Majlis" inviting you as you enter. If you think its small, hold on until you see a perfectly A/C dining zone with typical diner setup. As you get into more deep, you get to see a scenic yet rustic decored outside sitting area which can accomodate around 40 pax. You want privacy yet open air experience, worry not as they got terrace section as well for it. So all in all they can accomodate around 100 pax easily with variety of options for seating and each gives you a different vibe to suit. Simple yet serene is the verdict.
We started off with Turkish Tea , served in çaydanlık. Hot n fresh, the tea acts as a perfect cleanser for you to start your meal along with some amazing dates.Tea is an important part of Turkish culture, and is the most commonly consumed hot drink, despite the country's long history of coffee consumption. Offering tea to guests is part of Turkish hospitality. Tea is most often consumed in households, shops, and by kıraathane – social gatherings of men.
We also had QAHWA (Arabic coffee is a part of the habits and traditions of Arabs, as coffee originated in the Middle East, beginning in Yemen and eventually travelling to Mecca (Hejaz), Egypt, the Levant) but I preferred the turkish tea anyday for its freshness. Then came the array of starters which to be frank impressed me mighty. Tabbouleh Salad caught me for its vibrancy and its finely chopped parsley with tomatoes, mint, onion, bulgur, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. The freshness along with subtle and flavorful made Baba Ganoush was a perfect pairing to hit your palate notes at different levels.
Fattoush salad on the other hand though looked visually more fresh kind of was a turn off due to heavy use of mustard and it didn't marry well with fresh cucumbers. Miss for me. As we were moving on , in came the Lebanese Mezze Platter. The fresh and fragrant falafels along with pickled olives , three varieties of hummus came in perfect harmony and excited our taste buds for sure. The falafels are to recommend for . Go for it !!!
As we wrapped up our starters, I could definitely feel the dishes made to authentic style as you don't get too bloated or burping after having so much meat as most of them are cooked over broth and not oil and heavy spices.
We then moved onto having Turkish Kebab which was your typical chicken skewers but were nicely cooked along with veggies (bell peppers varieties) , the meat was cooked nicely and simple flavors were on its favor. Next came in Harissa fish , at first bite, you get a heavy after kick of coriander seeds but then as you relish more, you tend to love the different flavor profile of this dish elevated by fresh fish cooked to perfection.
Istanbul Chicken came in to be a challenge due to its size , kebab style cooked with less or no oil made us savor this with not much difficulty. The mayo sauce made it one messy dish to handle but that was the fun part to eat and relish with hands.
Of course any arabic meal cannot be over without MANDI and/or Khabsa. We had juicy mutton mandi, Chicken Faham Mandi and Khabsa. Mandi has quite picked up as a buzzword in hyderabad food scenes owing to its popularity of brands bringin it from old city to the cyber parts of the city. IT crowd seem to have adapted it well of eating together culture as same time indeed saves money owing to its quantity. But if you ask me "where do you get authentic Mandi in Hyderabad?", My answer would be a blunt NO. Having had different mandis during my dubai recent trip, I can say this, I dont think we have the authentic ones here for sure or yet I'm yet to proved wrong.
Mandi is a traditional dish from Yemen of meat, rice, and spices. It is also eaten in some gulf nations . It is now very popular in other areas of the Arabian Peninsula, and it is also common in Egypt and Levant and Turkey. It is also popular among the Hadhrami people in the Malabar region of Kerala, Bhatkal of Karnataka, as well as Barkas and areas around Hyderabad, India. The word "mandi" comes from the Arabic word nada, meaning "dew", and reflects the moist 'dewy' texture of the meat (source .: wiki)
Juicy Mutton Mandi was perfection with well cooked juicy mutton dripping on its fat and the subtle flavored mandi rice ensured our tummies had a good time. Chicken Faham on the other hand was equally satiating but the dryness from the chicken may be a turn down for me as it was too tough to eat such dry meat over dry rice as well. Khabsa which on other hand is quite different from Mandi as its made more with the tomato puree , looked visually better than mandi but unfortunately it went other way around. It was way too dry for my palate and the aroma that should excite you was totally missing. After we stuff to our rim, we had to wrap up with some delectable desserts.