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The annual ritual: Avakaya pickle

The annual ritual: Avakaya pickle
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It was going to be a big day. The air was heavy with the heady sense of anticipation of the momentous task at hand. Special occasions need special...

It was going to be a big day. The air was heavy with the heady sense of anticipation of the momentous task at hand. Special occasions need special attention, and it was going to be the day when ‘Avakaya’ pickle would be made. It began with choosing the right mangoes. Big shopping bags…the cloth ones that would carry donkey’s weight were brought out to go to one of the largest and oldest markets of Hyderabad, Chikkadpally.

Why would someone who stays near Mehdipatnam, a good 10 km away, went all the way? Because, unlike today, we didn’t have everything available in one place, everywhere! On one such shopping sojourns that I enthusiastically offered to accompany I saw; around 100 - 150 mangoes were bought, a major portion of which to be used to make the Avakaya with mustard powder, and the rest would be used to make yet another version, ‘Magaya’.

The ones going to be used for ‘Avakaya’ had to be cut on a neat cloth and placed carefully in the bag. Mustard seeds, the right quality were bought, to be cleaned and powdered, followed by dried red chillies (or powder), salt, turmeric, oil (the sesame oil was only allowed to get into these important preparations, even though many used ground nut oil too).

And then there was this very important ingredient that had to go into ‘Magaya’, the ‘Inguva’ (asafoefida) – the best variety at that and menthulu (dry methi seeds to be roasted and powdered, yet another key ingredient in magaya for which the manges would be wiped clean, without a trace of moisture, skinned and then cut into these long pieces that need a special skill, and kept to marinate for a couple of days, then removed by squeezing out the juice, left to sun dry, before putting back in the juice along with chilli powder (the Warangal chillies that are more red, yet mild were used specifically for pickles).

I remember we also bought, the brown ‘senagalu’ (chickpeas) that went into avakaya, which too marinate and when had with the pickle, taste good. Now, if it was garlic that went into ‘Avakaya’, then it involved even longer process, buying the garlic, separating the pods, adding oil and turmeric and kept to dry a little so that the skin can be removed easily. In addition to adding the flavour, the garlic pods attain a unique taste after marination. In Telangana, ginger garlic paste is added to Avakaya which means cleaning humungous amounts of ginger too.

Back at home that resembled a cottage industry for the day, the family would assemble around the cloth, carefully separate and clean the mango pieces with the hardened seed portion intact, put them in oil, roll in the spice mix and put away in the jadis (ceramic jars) kept ready solely for the purpose.

The best part of the whole process came towards the end for me, when in the left over spice mix that sticks to the vessel would go in the piping hot steamed rice, ghee would be added and the roundels of this heavenly preparation would be served around to the outstretched hands. After 3 days of close monitoring, the ‘Avakaya’ is declared ready and would be proudly distributed to the near and dear for taste, before it is devoured in merriment.

There is a huge variety of ‘Avakaya’ that is prepared in various parts of AP and Telangana. The one that uses green gram ‘Pesara Avakaya’, ‘Theepi Avakaya’ (Bellam Avakaya) a specialty of North coastal Andhra that involves a long procedure where the mango pieces are marinated in jaggery, Allam Avakaya (that uses generous amount of ginger garlic paste), Kobbari Avakaya (using coconut), ‘Nuvvavakaya’ using sesame, ‘Masala Avakaya’ etc from Telangana…to name just a few.

What has changed today? Well, buying the ingredients is just a click away, or all you have to do is hop into a supermarket that intelligently places everything you need in one place, neatly cleaned and packed. You have everything powdered and kept ready. In most homes the number of mangoes bought for the preparation has gone down drastically. ‘No one eats, once it becomes a little old’ complain a few, “We have to be careful of our health’ exclaim few others.

Hence, the preparation gets done in a jiffy. In fact, many started buying the home made ones in smaller portions. When prepared in such small quantities, it evidently leaves little or no chance for distributing around.

Yet, you may beg, borrow, or make, but you make sure you taste the new Avakaya. Because, in Telugu homes summers are incomplete without tasting this magical preparation!

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