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Haleem set to return to Saudi Arabia with Indian taste

By Mohammed Shafeeq,

Hyderabad : Pista House, the Hyderabad-based food joint that has become synonymous with haleem, plans to take it to Saudi Arabia, from where the delicacy is said to have originated. It is gearing up to open 20 outlets in Saudi Arabia to meet the demand from not just South Asians working there but also the locals.

The dish, a stew of meat, lentils and wheat mixed with spices, is originally an Arabic dish and is said to have come to Hyderabad during the Mughal period via Iran and Afghanistan. The syrupy dish was Indianised with the addition of Indian spices, dry fruits, ghee and the unique style of cooking.

The complete meal is preferred for breaking the fast during Ramadan due to its energizing nature, high nutritional value and soothing porridge-like texture. Few hotels here sell it round the year while it is also served at Muslim marriages as a starter.

Almost every hotel and roadside eatery set up brick-and-mud kilns during the holy month for preparing the haleem. It’s a painstaking process. Two or more men mix the ingredients with large wooden sticks for 10 to 12 hours.

While hundreds of hotels sell the dish during Ramadan, it is Pista House which made it hugely popular during the last 15 years with its high quality ingredients and preparation.

“We are proud to take haleem back to the country from where it originated. Our stores will be up and running there next year,” M.A. Majeed, the man behind the brand, told IANS.

The joint has been shipping canned haleem to the Middle East for the last few years but there is growing demand for opening the outlets, said Majeed, the managing director of Pista House.

“There is huge demand for Pista House haleem from Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis working in various cities. Even the locals are loving it for the way it is prepared with a right mix of mutton, wheat and spices. The dish prepared there is heavy on the stomach and is not as delicious as this,” said Mumtaz Ali Akram, a Hyderabadi businessman based in Saudi Arabia.

“Such is the demand that those who can’t wait till next year want it by any means and are ready to pay the extra charges,” said Mohammed Quaiser, president, Tanzeem Hum Hindustani, an organisation of NRIs.

The joint is taking advantage of good air connectivity. Hyderabad already has four flights a week to Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.

Pista House has already opened two outlets in the United States and has entered into agreements with local food joints to open 15 more this year to serve not just haleem but the famous biryani, nehari, double ka meetha and qubani ka meetha.

The food chain, which played a vital role in getting GI (Glycemic Index) status for Hyderabadi haleem a few years ago, has already taken it outside the city by setting up kitchens in Bangalore and Vijayawada.

For those in other Indian cities, supply chain major Gati Ltd has a solution. It is ensuring delivery in selected cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai the same day. The haleem is prepared at 2 p.m. every day and is delivered in six to eight hours the same day.

According to Majeed, there were 30,000 orders even before Ramadan began late last month.

The rise in prices of mutton, ghee, spices and plastic containers has led to an increase in haleem prices from Rs.110 (350 gm) to Rs.130 this year. But this has not dampened sales.

“We use quality meat, ghee and other ingredients. We never compromise on quality. We can sell double the present quantity but we don’t want to spoil the quality,” said Majeed, who personally leads the 3,000-strong team of workers.

The increasing demand in Hyderabad forces it to open new outlets every year. This year it added 30 outlets, taking the number to 230.

Pista House, whose daily sales crosses 10 tonnes during Ramadan, also has vegetarian haleem to satisfy vegetarians. It also offers diet haleem, in which olive oil is used instead of ghee.

(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at [email protected])