Why Bangalore Adores Avarekai

For seventeen years, the organisers of the Avarekai Mela have paid homage to the bean that built the city, figuring that a party is the least we owe to the benda kallu that an old lady fed a king once upon a time. The response has bean heartening: for the first time this year, the Avarekai Mela spreads from its home in VV Puram to two other venues in the city. In honour of the expansion, we asked Bangaloreans of various stripes to give us a leg(ume) up on their fondness for the long good-kai. 

The Gardeners
The avarekai or lablab, which grows between November and February, is wonderfully versatile and very pretty – it’s also known as the hyacinth bean.  “This climber goes by many names and as many uses,” says Dr Vandana Krishnamurthy, Bangalore botanist and founder of home garden specialists Urban Mali. “It’s great for the soil, used as fodder crop and has many cultural references to Shankranthi and Pongal. For an otherwise Plain Jane kind of plant, the bean grows from a beautiful single petal purple flower, and that’s a sight to feast your eyes on.” 

The Organisers
When food suppliers Sri Vasavi Condiments inaugurated the mela in 2000, it was a novelty, limited to just their store in VV Puram. Over the years, bean delirium spread to the entire street. Now, as the mela moves out to additional venues in Malleshwaram and Nagarbhavi, Swathi of Sri Vasavi Condiments is happy to cope with the logistical challenges.

When food suppliers Sri Vasavi Condiments inaugurated the mela in 2000, it was a novelty, limited to just their store in VV Puram. Over the years, bean delirium spread to the entire street.

“The amount of avarekai sourced per year has tripled in the last ten years and now we are reaching out to farmers in several districts apart from Magadi to meet the demand,” Swathi says. They’re joined by farmers selling fresh beans at each venue. There are also 150 cooks making everything from traditional home-style dishes to street-inspired dishes.  

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The Chefs
The mela’s participants are not just people who love avarekai. Chef Manu Chandra of Toast & Tonic and Olive Beach uses it to make falafel, salads, as a puree with buckwheat batter crepes and flatbreads, and a side that cohesively mixes with proteins like prawn and lamb. The bean’s versatility extends to its taste. “The first time I was introduced to it, I had just moved to Bangalore. My landlord fed me mutton saaru with the bele and I was instantly curious.”

This yes-saaru attitude is shared by many city chefs, including Dhayalan Paul, a farm-to-fork enthusiast who’s working on launching his new venture Go Native Café in Jayanagar. It thrills him that “avare season” is celebrated with much enthusiasm: as a young man, he grew up on avarekai and drumstick sambar in Coimbatore, in western Tamil Nadu. To celebrate it, his new menu features an avarekai salad, as well as a more traditional saaru with assorted vegetables, served with akki rotti. Chef Paul’s favourite rendition of it combines the beans with slow braised pork and a mild tartness of Coorg’s kachimpuli, or country vinegar.

Be Avare-cious
If you have any intention of bean stalk-ing, know that the mela’s cooks can offer you avarekai dosa with hitkabele curry; avarekai chikki; nippatu; and as piece de resistance, honey jalebi, made with boiled avarekai, mashed and mixed into the batter. Perhaps the most touching tribute is a dish that will bring it together with Bangalore’s definitive street food: Swathi promises that the mela will serve avarabele gobi manchurian.

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