Haleem, the slow-cooked, rich and luxurious Hyderabadi delicacy, is in hot demand — not just in Hyderabad, but around India and the world. More than 50 countries now import it, collectively contributing as much as 24 per cent to this growing, now Rs 100-crore business focused on the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The dish is as closely associated with Hyderabad as biryani — and, indeed, during Ramadan last year, Hyderabadi haleem was granted Geographical Indication (GI) certification by India’s Geographical Indications Registry. This ensures that only haleem made in Hyderabad can be called Hyderabadi haleem.
Haleem is a thick, delicately spiced stew made with mutton, pounded wheat and ghee. It is cooked for 12 hours on a low wood fire until it attains its melt-in-the-mouth quality. It is considered a good food with which to break the daily Ramadan fast. Its proponents say it has anti-ageing properties, because ingredients like dry fruits are rich in antioxidants. Non-Muslims also love it — and in fact make up 40 per cent of its consumers.
Figures come courtesy the Haleem Makers’ Association. With 6,000 vendors and haleem-makers sprouting around the city during Ramadan, the market grows bigger every year. It has grown by 15 per cent over 2010, and is projected to grow at a similar rate in coming years. During Ramadan virtually every street of the old city of Hyderabad comes alive with eateries and stalls. Each haleem cook has to build a brick and earth oven. Over 70 per cent of the haleem-makers swing into action only during the holy month.
“There is a huge potential for haleem-makers in the city,” says M A Majeed, president of the association and owner of a haleem outlet called Pista House. “So far, the current business has only tapped 2-3 per cent in Hyderabad.”
Pista House is well-known. It employs 200 cooks, sells at 220 outlets in the city and exports to 50 countries. In partnership with logistics company Gati it delivers tinned and fresh haleem to several cities in India. This year it has opened outlets in Bangalore and Mumbai.
Growth apart, haleem is seeing innovation. This year there is “diet” haleem, aimed at the cholesterol-conscious. Five years ago Panchsheel Hotel introduced vegetable haleem. Also, for the first time, there is an all-women haleem wing, with 200 women cooks.
The origins of haleem are not known. Some trace it to Iran, others to Arabia. Connoisseurs distinguish two broad varieties. “Before the Irani haleem was introduced,” says one, “what was served was harees of different kinds: Yemeni, Saudi, Dakhani, et cetera. Harees has less meat and more wheat, while the proportion [is reversed] in haleem.”
The association now aims to take haleem into households, by offering classes in haleem-making. “People should make haleem at home,” says Majeed. “So, after Ramadan gets over, we will start teaching a group of women.”