Bukni, Bharua, aaloo tikki, nimona, rikwach, and bafauri. Which one of these dishes have you tasted? Let me guess, aaloo tikki. These are but a small part of the plethora of dishes from the Awadhi community, also known as the Desi community in Nepal. They make up around 1.89 percent of the total population in Nepal so it is not surprising people do not know much about their food, let alone their culture. It would be a monumental task to share about their culture in an article, so I will stick to something that connects everyone, the food of the Awadhi people.

The Origin Story

Before we begin, let’s understand, who are the Awadhi people and where do they come from? Awadh, derives its name from the sacred city of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama and the people inhabiting this ancient region are called Awadhis.

Map of Awadh (Source: en_academic.com)

(Note: As you can see in the map, the Awadh region shares it’s border with the Kanchanpur, Kailali, Bardiya, Banke, Dang, and Kapilvastu. So, it might be possible that the Awadhi people resided in these regions from the beginning rather than migrating from India. However, I am yet to research on this in depth.)

Although the origin of the Awadhi people lies in ancient India, they inhabit different parts of the world namely, the Caribbean, Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, South Africa, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, thanks to the East India Company’s idea of indentured labors. (Read more in references)

Source: The forgotten story of India’s colonial slave workers who began leaving home 180 years ago — Quartz India (qz.com)

Wherever the Awadhis went, they carried their rich history, culture and traditions along with them, all the while evolving these aspects based on the climate, land and access to natural resources.

Awadhi, The Language

Awadhi is an Indo-Aryan language. As it is chiefly spoken in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, it is also called Purabi or Purabiya which means eastern. It is also called Koshaali sometimes based on the ancient name of the region, Koshal.

In Nepal, Awadhis are a minority population and majorly reside in Banke, Bardiya, Kanchanpur, Kapilvastu, Rupandehi, and Nawalparasi districts.

Language distribution of Nepal (Source: Map Porn (Reddit))

Awadhi is a truly Ganga-Jamuni language, reflective of the syncretic culture of the Awadh region. It has been adopted as a medium not just to retell the story of Bhagwan Ram but also to compose Marsiyas, Soz and Noha (the poetry of lament and mourning), recited during Moharram to commemorate and honour the martyrs of Karbala.

– Isha Priya Singh (About Awadhi Language: eSamskriti)

Awadhi community (Source: Offlinethinker.com)

The Cuisine of the Awadhi people

Awadhi culture is very rich and colourful and this is reflected in their food. The sharpness of mustard oil, the chaotic symphony of spices, and intricate cooking techniques, define their cuisine. Having its roots in ancient India, this community mastered their recipes based on the principles of Ayurveda to balance the three doshas; kapha (cold and phlegmy), vaata (mobile and flatulent), or pitta (hot and liverish).

The three doshas of Ayurveda (Source: mavcure.com)

From spicy kachoris to mellow khichdis, there are dishes for every occasion and the varying needs of the human body.

Kachori and aaloo sabji (Source: Pinterest)

Their excellent recipes are not just limited to the realm of vegetarians, they have some spectacular non-vegetarian dishes as well, including, mutton pyaza, handi mutton, fish pakora etc.

Handi Mutton (Source: Cookpad.com)

As the seasons change, the needs of the body change and so do the meals in the Awadhi household. The hot summers of the plains yield juicy mangoes, which are used to make pickles, chutneys, Aamwala dal, amawat, aam panna etc.

Mango Pickle (Source: Krishi Icar)

It’s fascinating to see how one major ingredient is used to prepare a spectrum of dishes all with unique taste and different set of spices. The dishes of the monsoon season are some of the most astounding ones. It’s the season of crispy pakoris, papads, chips, tikkis and curries of kohdauri and sukha gobhi, muli, gajar etc. Traditionally, the preparation of the monsoon food starts from the winters. The women of the community can be found grating kupindo, to make kohdauri (it is similar to Mashyaura), drying cauliflowers, radish etc, making aaloo chips, papad and so much more.

Aaloo Papad (Source: genxsoft.info)

The winters witness the rich flavours of Shalgam, parwar, gobhi, etc prepared in rich spicy curry. It is also the season of the beloved matar nimona, gajar halwa, aaloo halwa, pumpkin halwa etc.

Matar Nimona (Source: Cookpad)

Spring is the season of yummy dishes made out of Pakdi, Til, Sahijan etc. Like everywhere else, this community also believes that in-season produce is more potent and of greater nutritional value.

Pakdi achar (Source: Foodzlife (Youtube))

Are these the only dishes of this community? Absolutely not! We have barely scratched the surface of the treasure of their cuisine. We will discuss details of the different recipes in the upcoming articles. For now let’s talk about the cooking methods and tools of this community.

Essentials For Delicious Recipes

If you want to taste some of the best recipes of this cuisine, get a chulha or clay hearth.

Chulha (Source: Tripadvisor)

It is the secret tool to making some of the most lip-smacking, mind blowing dishes like Litti Chokha, Bharta, Makuri roti, etc. as it adds the much needed smoky element to the dishes.

Litti preparation Source: Desi Indian Food (Youtube)

Have you tasted the achars or the pickles by the Awadhi community? If you are thinking that it resembles the popular Rajasthani achar or the Punjabi achars, well you are in for a surprise. The pickles of this cuisine vary from powder, to dry to wet forms. For eg: The chilli pickle is made of both the wet and the dry variety. The dry variety is dark in color and is filled with the bukni masala.

Green Chilli pickle (Source: Sattva Nepal)

The bukni masala in itself is unique, it is used to prepare stuffed vegetables (Bharwas), stuffed pickles like lemon and chilly and the recipe for each dish varies.

Bukni Masala Source: Sattva Nepal

There are varieties of the bukni itself. It can also be consumed as a standalone pickle, much like the various Chhops popular in Nepal.

Apart from pickling, and roasting, Awadhi communities use the methods like steaming (Rikwach, Fara), flash frying (Pakoris), Boiling (Rice, Rajma), slow cooking (Urad dal), pan roasting (Aaloo bhutuwa), shallow frying (Fried Fara, Fish pakodi ) and so on.

Rikwach (Source: Tamale Digest)

After the introduction of pressure cookers, pressure cooking became an integral part of this cuisine especially for making dals. Some of the popular utensils used are Batula, Dekchi, Karahi, Tawa, Handi, and Matka.

Handi (Source: Indiamart)
Iron Karahi (Source:Amazon)

In the old times, the utensils were made of clay, copper, brass, and iron but as we moved from Chulha to the gas stove, aluminium and steel made their way into our kitchen. However, in a lot of traditional households you can still find iron, brass, and copper utensils and they are used to prepare specific dishes, for eg: Iron kadai is preferred for ghotua (Steamed and fried gram leaves) whereas for Kheer (Sweet porridge) brass batulas are preferred.

Kheer (Source: Depositphotos)

I hope this article was able to give you a peek into the lives of the Awadhi community in Nepal and broke down some misconceptions. This community has a multi-layered identity and it is not solely defined by the “dhoti” that the men wear in the community. With its vibrant culture, colorful festivals and sweet language, the community also holds the key to the diverse cuisine of Nepal.

Next time when you are in terai, I hope you do pay a visit to an Awadhi household and try some of their seasonal dishes.

*This article is a result of my research and conversations with the Awadhi community in Nepalgunj. In case, there are any discrepancies in the article, do let me know. Would really appreciate an opportunity to build my understanding better.

References:

  1. The forgotten story of India’s colonial slave workers who began leaving home 180 years ago — Quartz India (qz.com)
  2. Sarnami: An Indian language born in South America, on the verge of becoming an endangered tongue-Living News , Firstpost
  3. Photos — Caribbean Hindustani
  4. About Awadhi Language (esamskriti.com)
  5. Languages of Nepal — Wikipedia
  6. Awadhi language (lonweb.org)
  7. Awadhi_Full report (cdltu.edu.np)

Written by Ms. Poonam Shukla, Co-founder, Sattva Nepal

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