Steaming cups of tea paired with an Osmania biscuit or two is what keeps Hyderabadis going, whether it’s a break in the middle of the workday or catching up with friends, no conversation is complete without chai.
The tea culture goes back many years in Hyderabad, with chaikhanas dotting every corner, these were makeshift stalls in the old city, sometimes having just four chairs. Hours would be spent here sipping endless cups of tea and discussing everything under the sun. One could also catch up on the news from newspapers lying around. Some of the bigger places would have amusing homilies or requests on their walls like ‘Please don’t discuss politics’, ‘Please make way for others’, Don’t wash your hands in cup or saucer’, ‘Don’t dip cigarette butts in empty cups.’
It was a constant hub of customers waiting for a freshly brewed cup at well-known chaikhanas like Jafree-e-Deccan at Deewan Deodhi complex, near Nayapul, at Machli Kamaan (a Pathan used to make the herb lassi in town here), Jalal ki hotel, Yousufia cold drinks at Nayapul cross roads and Nimani Darbar, near Osmania General Hospital, Kaale Khan’s adjacent to Jubilee post office and Sitara Hotel near Krishna Talkies.
People would throng Chandrayangutta to get a taste of the herbal chai at Mehboob Baig’s hotel. Invariably, there was a chaikhana in every locality, no one can forget Shanker Sheer hotel, the most famous tea-house near Mahbubgunj where people travelled long distances just for a cup of delicious tea.
The arrival of Irani chai changed the taste of tea addicts. A tad different from local brands, it paired well with the bun maska liberally spread with butter. Before the arrival of idli, wada and dosa, bun maska was the favourite breakfast food of sportsmen and morning walkers. Mini samosa that could be finished in two bites was added later to the combo. Irani café owners started stocking bakery items as well. I remember my grandfather used to buy Kaayi biscuits — a delicacy of Madina, besides the usual dilkhush, salt biscuits and naan khatai. For jalebis, mathri and imarti, people went to Ram Narain hotel at Sultan Bazar near Royal talkies.
Taste of Osmania
Today almost every bakery and hotel in Hyderabad makes Osmania biscuits. The biscuit made of maida mixed with sugar, salt, milk powder, ghee, baking powder, and other ingredients is available almost everywhere.
The popular munchie of Hyderabadis has two different stories credited to its origin. According to some, the biscuits were created to supplement the diet of patients at Osmania General Hospital.
The salty-sweet combination was so delicious that soon attendants and visitors began pilfering it from the hospital pantry. It was not long before the biscuits found their way to the cafes in the vicinity of the hospital. The other story goes that the biscuits are named after Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam. Infact, he liked them so much that every evening a car from Nazari Bagh was sent to pick up the biscuits from the popular Vicaji Hotel in Abids. But a few places are hot favourites of the people. Subhan bakery, Nimrah, Karachi bakery and Bahar hotels are some of them. “What makes this biscuit most popular is that it is a mix of both sweet and salt,” says Syed Irfan of Subhan bakery.
This nearly 70-year-old bakery located in Nampally is packed with shoppers, especially during evenings when hot and freshly baked biscuits arrive on the shelves. “We make more than one tonne of Osmania biscuits every day,” says Irfan, a third-generation businessman. The biscuits are also supplied to cities like Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.
Though Osmania is a favourite for all seasons, sales particularly go up during winter when people enjoy this with hot tea. Nimrah Cafe near the historic Charminar is another crowd favourite. From a petty trader doing business on the footpath to a tourist visiting Charminar, everybody relishes the cookies with chai. The cafe does brisk business from early morning till late in the night.
“We don’t compromise on quality and supply the biscuits hot and fresh,” says Obaid Bin Aboos of Nimrah Bakery and Cafe, adding that he has maintained the same quality and taste for 23 years.