One bite of these Charminar Butter Cookies and the magic of taste memory kicks in. Let us take you there, to a thriving bakery in a bustling market in the heart of Hyderabad.
We were hungry from a morning of touring the vast Chowmahalla Palace. Back out on the streets, as we were strolling past Charminar, we spied a bakery and our guide said, this is just the place.
Nimrah Bakery and Cafe
The smell was like mana from heaven. The scent of butter-y, fresh from the oven cookies intermingling with the spices of a masterfully blended chai led our noses and tummies in from the street. The warmth of that impression was echoed in the eyes of the proprietor. He watched to see our reaction as we bit into our first cookie’s melt-in-the-mouth goodness. He had presented the golden yellow discs cozied up on little plates alongside small but steaming mugs of chai.
We rolled our eyes to the sky and before we knew it, we were touring the back of the house. Trays upon trays of the cookies were cooling on rolling racks. We got to try most of them. Oven doors opened and closed as the bakers slid more and more biscuits into their fiery mouths. We learned that the ones we loved so much are called Osmania biscuits. They were 3 Rupees (about 50 cents CDN) each.
Piles of macaroons, tutti frutti, pista and cashew biscuits also tempted us. But, we stuck with the original. We’d developed an instant Osmania biscuit habit.
Before leaving the back of the house, we had a lesson in how Irani chai is made at Nimrah Bakery and Cafe. The tea and the spicy milk are boiled separately. They are only combined in the cup. That might not sound revolutionary but it’s quite a departure from how chai is usually made on the subcontinent. Usually, the whole lot is boiled together and then strained with a great flair. Here the flair lied in the restraint.
Once our tummies were sated, we regained our composure to properly introduce ourselves and learn more about the owner. Mr. Abood Aslam was his hame. Once again we noticed his kind and observant eyes under his white kufi cap. His neat beard framed his smile. And, he spoke perfect English. His father has established the bakery in 1993. He’d been running it the last 10 or so years. He smiled when we joked that he not only had quality, he also had, “location, location, location!”
We exchanged business cards and left with a big box of Hyderabad’s favourites biscuits in our arms. We’d spent a morning touring a very gracious palace. But, we’d take this kind of gracious hospitality over palaces any day.
Charminar Butter Cookies are born
Back at home, Karen tested recipes until she was happy with the results. The smell while baking in the oven, the golden colour, and that melt-away first bite all had to be there. We can’t call them Osmania biscuits because we’d never ask for such a special recipe. Instead we are calling them Charminar Butter Cookies because they deliver that taste memory that will always take us back to that sweetest of places.
We hope you’ll visit Nimrah Cafe and Bakery and meet our friend Abood Aslam one day. But if you never do, we hope you’ll make these cookies. Enjoy Pauli-Ann’s photos of our visit above and imagine yourself there all the same. Karen’s version are below.