It's as hard to not know Karachi Bakery as it is to not know Mozamjahi Market - possible, perhaps, but the effort is clearly not worth the reward. Some old-timers would say you might as well not know Hyderabad, among aye-aye chortles from fellow old-timers. They'll top it up with more guffawing when you ask for directions, since directions usually start
from Karachi Bakery, not end there.
Building its brand over 50 years, Karachi Bakery has now come to be almost as famous as Charminar
itself. Or perhaps slightly more. The offerings here are completely in tune with Hyderabadi culture, where one lives to eat, not eats to live. You can't eat a Charminar, no matter how hungry you may be.
And boy, is that "offering" good. If there is one thing that Hyderabadi engineers slogging in the US miss - aside of their folks, that is - it's these biscuits. Perfected a long time ago, these sans-preservative, sans-additive biscuits are as close to baked perfection as you can get.
The actual act of getting them, however, might pose a problem. You'd think that food rations were being distributed free of cost to war refugees, the way the biscuits disappear off the shelves. There is no particular time which is the best to get fresh-baked biscuits. The store purports to have its 3 kitchens and its ovens running 12x6, so that you get freshly-baked hot biscuits throughout the day.
The first thing that strikes you about the bakery (after you've ingested some of its food-stuffs) is the location. When it started, it must have been a sleepy store, working a few hours a day at a small intersection, albeit opposite a big market. Today, the roads at the same intersection lead to places called Afzalgunj, Koti, Abids and Nampally. The "big market" is still called the same, but means something different altogether in this day and age. Mozamjahi Market. Had the original founders tried harder, they couldn't have found a better place for their bakery.
This strategic location mostly determines its clientele. From burkha-clad women coming to pick up something for the children, to white liveried chauffers selecting fare for their masters, it's usually a complete Hyderabadi melange here. And there is definitely enough stuff for everyone teeth.
Being affordable makes it all the more satiating. A kilo (which weighs about 900 grams in this part of town) of "Fruit Biscuits" costs Rs. 110. Fruit Biscuits - crunchy, with a liberal dose of small chewey thingalings embedded - are probably Karachi Bakery's masterpiece on the wall, its fame and its fortune.
Yes, it's not so much the pastries or its cakes (Rs. 140 to Rs. 300 per kg), which also are good, nor is it so much the French items like the brioche or the foccasia (which to my mind are better left to the French), but the biscuit, that defines Karachi Bakery. Remove the fruit biscuit or the kaju
biscuit, and Karachi Bakery loses its edge. It loses its core competence, its raison d' etre
The store in its wabbly-footed Hyderabadian attempt to become more modern, has tried its hand at change. Now change may be good, change may be bad and change may be inevitable. But change just for the sake of change is never a good thing. Imagine a VW Beetle which ends up looking like a sleek sports car. Imagine a hand-rolled Cuban cigar, which ends up trying its hands at new international flavours. Or, even closer home, imagine a Famous Ice Cream, which ends up tasting like frozen ice.
Karachi Bakery has had mixed results with its tryst with change. Parking, for over 100 car-worths of it, can never be a bad thing. Nor can sleek looking counters, with neon signs which say "pay cash here", or "get this here". The bad change is when it tries to become something it's not. It positions itself as a departmental store, an area bounds away from its core competence. The range of goods is increasingly of the type available in Mumbai's Crawford market. Not that that's a bad thing.
You get things like foreign brands of orange juice and other eatables, to packaged foodstuffs from common Indian brands. Why, they even have a small cosmetics section(!). But there is the sad part. If you've been there, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, try and picture this. Ever been to a market with only one good shop, which gets all the crowds, with 50 other hawkers who are joblessly idling away their time? The same goes on inside KB.
At any given time, you'll find two dozen people around the biscuits and the pastries section, while row upon row of shelf-space packed with 'departmental' goods hardly gets a pasing glance. This utter, sheer and total wastage of space turns the service standards to very low levels. Imagine having to jostle for biscuits.
On the other hand, imagine biscuits good enough to merit jostling