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28.03.2018

In direct contrast to the even-tempered happy buzz around Sassy Begum that’s all over Facebook and Insta stories, their Zomato ordering streak shows three readings: 4 stars, 1 star, and 5 stars. A streak as wild as the water buffalo of the Deccan forests? Quite.

For a delivery-only place, Sassy Begum has a small menu, with no apparent twists to the recipes, for which we thank the gods: Sunday nights are for food you know and love. When we read through the menu—a biryani, two kuts, some raita, some meat—it sounds like the Begum saying unto the world (or the 5km radius in which they deliver from their home base in Greater Kailash 1) “We know what we’re good at and to hell with the rest.”

This writer is also a home cook, and understands and respects this sentiment. Not everybody has the wherewithal to do extensive menus (and not every delivery kitchen that does, should). Better to stick to the classics and make them super yummy, even if you overcharge a little.

This is the only way we can explain the pricing of the dishes:biryani costs almost Rs 900 and the least expensive dish, Bagara Baingan, is marked at Rs 360.Our order arrives in packaging meant, perhaps, to justify the fancy prices—stiff black shoe boxes and heat-sealed containers with meticulously printed labels. The food itself, however, is another story.

Hyderabadi food stands for generosity—in everything from bold flavours to serving sizes, the nawabs didn’t do things by half measures. This Begum, though, may well have come from stingy Sindh (with apologies to our western cousins), for our first disappointment is the quantity of food. As we sit down to eat over small helpings of aubergine and chicken, plus the most expensive roomali rotis we’ve ordered in a while, we assume the taste will make up for lack of generosity.

Hyderabadi cuisine developed under the patronage of the Turcophile Deccan nawabs whose kitchens married Ottoman and Persian recipes with indigenous ingredients. Local sorrel leaves known as gongura lent their tanginess to chicken curry, and aubergines came to be stewed in a peanut-sesame-poppy seeds gravy to arrive at Baghaar-e-Baingan. Haleem—meat slow-cooked with wheat, dal, and spices—developed as our version of potage: a popular street-side dish that gave the common man his daily protein and carb fix.

None of this legacy, alas, is readily apparent in the Begum’s food. We’ll go dish-by-dish. Deccan Scotch eggs, “the Begum’s nargisi koftas,” though balanced in flavour and coated in moist mince, were, to us, neither Scotch nor nargisi. Proper Scotch eggs have a runny yolk. Nargisi koftas are deep fried and crispy on the outside, while the yolk is hard boiled. These were pan fried, leading us to suspect that boiled eggs had simply been coated in shammi kebab mix and seared in a pan.

Next is a good mutton handi biryani that skimps, nonetheless, on the meat. The mirchi salan accompanying it is competent, and complements the biryani nicely, even though the burani raita—also complimentary; with garlic and chilly—is too watery to be fully satisfying. Bagara baingan is by far the tastiest dish on the table, which is why we wish there were more than three baingans to a plate.

Gongura chicken, we feel, is closer to a Bengali kosha gravy, as it has none of that tangy, tongue-smacking quality that characterises the sorrel leaves. The begum’s “heritage” haleem, sadly, is a clear loser; possibly mixed in a blender, it’s lost all the soft, stringy floss that you expect when eating good, slow-cooked haleem from any dhaba in Nizamuddin West. Awkward to say, the roomali rotis were definitely not fresh-made, dry and crumbly instead of being elastic and chewy.

The overarching consensus across our table of four is that the Sassy Begum, while well-intentioned, has yet to figure out how to balance product with prices—something affecting both the authenticity of its taste as well as its quantity/serving sizes. The fancy packaging may impress millennials hosting other millennials for a ‘native’ dinner at home, but there are only so many chic black handis one can collect in one’s refridgerator, you know.

Getting there: Sassy Begum, Greater Kailash I, a meal for three costs around Rs 3,200.

bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.

This review was contributed by Varun Rana.

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