“Ek plate mutton Daleem dena” (serve me a plate of Mutton Daleem) is what I told the guy pouring the enticing broth onto the bowls for serving. He looked at me smilingly and said “Saab pehli baar le rahe ho?” (Sir: Are you having this for the first time?). I nodded to indicate yes though it wasn’t true at all. With a loving smile he said “isko Haleem Kahete hai” (it is called Haleem).
This brief conversation went on to assure me that how much debate happens in FB food groups, it is not easy to attempt this change. It is true that certain set of people may have their objections of a food being named after an attribute of God i.e. Haleem, but i guess the length and breadth to which this has spread, it is not easy to attempt this change.
Popularly believed to have evolved from Harissa (Harees) of Arabian countries, first references of Haleem in India dates back to 16th Century. However, Haleem’s spread and popularity probably started off in Hyderabad where it started getting prepared regularly by the Yemini Palace Guards of Nizam. And in Hyderabad, it was modified in a way to suit local needs and taste like adding the variety of pulses to the medley of wheat/ barley and meat. While in Harissa the ratio of meat: wheat is 1:1 (as some recipes indicate), in Haleem the ratio is very different. Considering the palace guards started making it regularly, i would assume they increased the proportion of wheat/barley and also added variety of pulses to increase the quantity without increasing the costs proportionately. Well, it reminds me of the addition of potato which transformed Awadhi Biriyani to Kolkata Biriyani.
Just like Hyderabad modified the Harissa to Haleem to suit its tastes, the same Haleem, over time, spread across some of the other locations in the country like Bengal and further adopted to the climatic conditions and raw material availability of the state. While the Haleem of Hyderabad is a medley of all its constituents mashed more viscous in nature and spiced up because of the dry and arid climate of the region, the one in Kolkata is far more flowing, maybe to tone it down to avoid sweating in a place already humid and sultry. The flowing consistency probably also help replenish the body fluid after a day of fasting during Ramzan. Or should we call the Haleem made in Kolkata as Khichra? While in daleem (or haleem) the meat cubes are taken out of the pot, bones are removed, meat is crushed and put back in the pot, in Kolkata the meat is left as small cubes which aligns itself more with the traditional definition of Khichra. But after my trial of asking for Daleem, i am surely not going to make another blunder of asking for Khichra next time I am in a Haleem eatery.
While apparently, Haleem, in the popular eateries of Kolkata may look same, subtle differences has created follower base for Haleem of specific joints.
Let us move on now – what better place to start off than Park Circus where the first few minutes is spent on deciding where you should go.
Arsalan needs no introduction for a person in Kolkata. Located right at the 7-point crossing of Park Circus, the shamiana on the road during Ramzan month will clearly indicate to you the place you need to head to. If you want to pack the Haleem, you needn’t even go inside. From under the shamiana, they will quickly pack one bowl for you. Nice vibrant color with a distinct taste will give you a feeling of flamboyant Haleem as you pour the first spoonful in your mouth. No, i didn’t forget to squeeze the lemon slice nor missed out garnished it with coriander. I just prefer to taste the first spoonful without anything added. it surely is slightly more spicier than the others.
One plate Mutton Haleem: Rs 190/-
Not even a kilometer away from Arsalan towards Gariahat is another famed eatery whose haleem is also very popular – Zeeshan. Take a coupon from the counter after paying the money and hand it over to the guy outside. He will carefully pack a bowl of Haleem with a pouch having a lemon slice and finely chopped coriander leaves. The one at Zeeshan will give you little more feel of the lentils in the broth while the overall taste is slightly subdued – your taste buds will slowly open up to take you to a state of ultimate satisfaction as you approach the last few spoonfuls.
One plate Mutton Haleem: Rs 170/-
If you take a different exit from Park Circus 7-point crossing, and head towards the ever-popular park Street, just before Mullick Bazaar crossing, you will be met with the age old and extremely popular restaurant – Shiraz.
This is a place which will introduce you to the various forms of Haleem. They have the following four Haleem option in Mutton
- Shahi Haleem – usual Haleem that is available in most Kolkata outlets. It contains mutton pieces like most places. There is a chicken variant available too. This costs Rs 200/- per plate
- Irani Haleem – This one is spiced down from usual Shahi Haleem yet extremely flavourful. It apparently is also light on the stomach. Mutton Boti is used here instead of mutton pieces. I was indeed lucky – when i reached at around 5-40pm,; only one bowl equivalent of it was left. And that allowed me the good fortune of consuming whatever additional botis were present in the broth
- Afgani Haleem – Richer in Taste than the Irani variant, here they use tempting Mutton Koftas in the Haleem. Guess the juice flowing out of the Kofta gives it a unique flavour
- Hyderabadi Haleem: No wonder people yearn for this variant. It is the way the initial paste of mutton keema is made with spices and wheat that not only gives an inclusive taste to the Haleem but also lends a completely different texture and consistency which is different from the Shahi Haleem available in Kolkata. Don’t search for mutton pieces here. Well they are mashed up to create that deeplly enticing flavour that you get when you pour a spoonful in your mouth.
All the above three variants are at Rs 210/- per plate
Is it that all the known Haleem joints are concentrated in Park Circus area. Guess not. How can the place, which was the home of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, not have a famed Haleem joint. No prizes for guessing – yes it ought to be India Restaurant in Khidderpore.
Famed for their Kachhi Biriyani, Haleem here often gets over by 6 pm. The mutton pieces here are larger and succulent, occupying almost half of your bowl and the remaining half is the tempting juice supporting the mutton. The Haleem here is slightly more viscous than many other places and hence leaves a stronger taste of the spices.
One plate Mutton Haleem: Rs 170/-
Whichever direction Kolkata grows, Esplanade and Dalhousie will always remain the Central Business District of the city. And it can’t be Haleem-less. It is this small crossing about 500 meters away from the famed KC Das sweetshop towards Chitpur road, that i am often in a dilemma – should i head left and succumb myself to the Indian fare of Amber or should just cross over and step into New Aliah. For a change, this time, i didn’t have the confusion since my agenda is Haleem and New Aliah is the destination.
The first spoonful gave a feel of a taste richer (not spicier) than most of the other Haleems I have tasted. Second spoonful ended up with me feeling some small solid stuff, but surely not bones – once i gave them a bite, those were finely chopped pieces of different nuts in the gravy. Surely something that stands out. Now after pouring part of the coriander mixture and squeezing the lime, i could feel a change in taste as small Julianne of gingers are spicing up the taste. As i curiously inspected, the julianne of ginger were part of the coriander leaves that were given to garnish the the Haleem. Must say an interesting and delicious top up. As i looked up, i saw small posters stuck to the wall – Special Arbi Haleem. I asked the owner as to how does it differ from the rest. While he avoided comparing, he said, we mix 55 condiments to the Haleem and some of them are brought directly from Arab countries. I feel satiated with my experience of Arabian Haleem.
One plate Mutton Haleem: Rs 180/-
I can’t let go of not mentioning the Haleem of a place which i consider as the Mecca of Biriyani – you got it right Royal Indian Hotel – yes they do deliver a Haleem that you will expect from a name like Royal. It is the usual Shahi Haleem of Kolkata with a taste which I found to be extremely well balanced arousing your taste buds when it fills your mouth and yet leaving a lasting flavour as it depressingly leaves your mouth on its obvious path into your digestive track.
One Plate Mutton Haleem: Rs 170/-
Beyond all the excitement and love of having Haleem during Ramzan, this is one dish which should make us all proud too – it is the first non-vegetarian dish that was GIS (Geographical Indication Status) certified from India.
They say that the first time Haleem that was publicly served, was served from a hotel, during Ramzan of 1953. It was from Madina Hotel. 65 years later, as you walk through some of these streets in Kolkata, you are spoilt for choice of Haleem from every other shop. Let me know which one you loved most as you commemorate its 65th anniversary.