Sunday, 21 May 2017

Avaakai - the mango pickle

Avaakai  is the name for the raw mango pickle prepared in Andhra, and is possibly the BEST pickle in India and the world - at least for me.

My memory of Avaakai and why its so good is because it was made at home by my mom and her neighbor, and the batch they produced (lasted nearly a decade) was the BESTEST one ever ever produced in the world.

When I was a kid in Hyderabad, We had a neighbor from Tamil Nadu and they were from Paalghaat and uniquely combined cultures of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Aunty G offered to collaborate with my mom to produce a bitch of pickle and she offered to do this in the Andhra style. The only hitch being that it had to be produced EN MASSE i.e. in a huge quantity otherwise there was no point.  Mom agreed. 

No Aunty G was a stickler for rules and perfection, so this was not something mom had bargained for, but was a great learning experience.  For nearly a week, Mom and aunty spent time getting the best raw mangos (nearly a sack) cut them in the right sized pieces and then dried them using the newest finest muslin, then soaked them in Jars that had been disinfected and dried in the sun (again cloaked to avoid dust n dirt). And then they prepared the pickle brine. Given that this was on an industrial scale the house was stinking of mustard, asafetida, garlic, and of course the key ingredient i.e. chilli powder. I forgot - yes, the chilli powder was also prepared by us but at the neighbouring mill, but the drying of the chillis and separating of the stalks was done at home.

It was a miserable week. I didn't see the final process but guess this was done by them when we were at school. We got a small bowl to taste the final product, but aunty insisted the best way to taste the pickle was to eat it after some time (I think a month) and we waited patiently - most of it my mom.

Now the thing about avaakai is that while it has unbeatable taste, there are times when you get a batch which doesn't make the cut because it wasn't done properly and the main culprit being some moisture creeping in unintendedly or carelessly.

Which is why this batch was soooo special. All ingredients were carefully chosen, and prepared as per the book and in great precision.
The result was sooooo good. We shared this across various families. But my mom gave one nice large jar to her family in Aurangabad that was a joint family household with nearly 40 members.  And when we visited them annually - they were still eating the pickle nearly five years down the line and it would be eaten gingerly so that everyone got the right amount. The expression as each one would eat it was priceless.  Meanwhile we'd long forgotten about it as we'd finished out batch.

After that, my mom didn't want to do another batch of the pickl, and anyways the key person in charge Aunty G had already moved on.  We couldn't trust ourselves to be this diligent in preparing it.

So we used to buy Avakaai from the shops and neighboring suppliers.  One of my favourite brands and I think the one that gets it right is PRIYA pickle - and a lot of customers at my workplace in Vijayawada used to work at their factory. Sometimes when we passed their factory outside Vijayawada, you could smell the asaefotida and spices in the air.

Priya pickle became a symbol of connection to home, not just when I moved out to do my MBA but also when I went abroad. It sustained me immensely.  During my Insti days, the food was possibly the very worst across all schools/ colleges (right out of the bogs as one kid called it).  When I took Priya pickles with me, there were tears in some of the studnets eyes when they saw it and begged to partake of some of it.  Since none of the food the canteen prepared was great, the only way to have it was the Andhra way i.e. with plain rice.  God that was so gooood.

Even when I have stayed abroad, the Priya pickle makes it easy. There are a lot of lovely varieties - Gongura, Tomato, garlic etc. but the one I love is of course the Avaakkai pickle.

Because finally it reminds me of the flavours that only Mom could produce and achieve...