Aiming to support farmers growing avarekai beans in and around Bangalore, this food festival attracts hundreds of locals thanks to their lip-smacking recipes. Avarekai pani puri, anyone?
Lablab or hyacinth beans may be native to Africa, and popular from Kenya to Vietnam, but it is in Bangalore that the beans ace their popularity quotient. Known locally as avarekai, these flat beans are ubiquitous to the local cuisine and a familiar sight at vegetable stalls and local Hopcoms in winter. But the city’s residents do more than just eat these beans in saaru and dal.
They turn it into a celebration.
Come January, Bangaloreans gather at VV Puram to get their fill of the avarekai at the annual Avarekai Mela, a festival to showcase the beans and benefit the farmers who cultivate these beans.
The story of the Avarekai Mela goes back to the year 2000, to a condiments shop in the city’s VV Puram area. Geetha Shivakumar, proprietor of Shri Vasavi Condiments, noticed that while the broad beans were very popular, the hithkabele—peeled avarekai—were very easily perishable. To minimise farmers’ losses due to excessive spoilage, and to make sure that the crop did not go to waste, Geetha started a avarekai fair in her store offering a variety of fresh beans and savouries that scored on taste as well as shelf life.
Bengaluru’s love affair with the beans is an enduring one, and local residents wasted no time in lapping up the festival. “The response was tremendous,” says Swathi KS, Geetha’s daughter who now manages the festival. The festival soon made its way out of the store, transforming into a festive affair that spread across the street.
Crowds thronged the mela for fresh supplies, directly sourced from farmers, but more so for the unusual recipes made using the beans.
From avarekai dosa with hithkabele saru to holige (flatbread stuffed with beans and jaggery), the festival is also a display of the bean’s culinary possibilities. “When we started, nobody thought it would be possible to create so many different foods with the beans,” says Swathi, crediting her mother for coming up with the recipes. “My mother’s recipes were very popular among family members and friends and she taught those to the mela’s cooks.” It helps that the fair has been working with their original cooks and workers as much as possible who continue with the regular recipes while adding new items every year.
While avarekai honey jalebis were last year’s big hit, the spotlight this year has been on favourite local fast food – Gobi manchurian, naturally with an avarekai twist.
The quantity of avarekai sourced for the festival has also risen significantly over the years. In the first year, about 1,000 kg of beans were used in the festival. In comparison, Swathi struggles to put an estimate on the amount of beans being used in this year’s edition. The prices this year have risen somewhat, says Swathi, as crop production has suffered due to adverse weather conditions. “We sourced from round to 30 zillas (districts) this year; and last year we sourced about 200 tonnes for the festival.”
The number is likely to rise further this year, as the mela is also being organised in two new venues around the city. “This year, we are organising two more fairs (mini melas) in Malleshwaram and Nagarbhavi, as we received a lot of request from the local MLAs. They have also helped us set up the melas,” says Swathi. The expansion also makes the festival more accessible to foodies all around the city.
Swathi, who worked at Ernst & Young before she joined the family business, says that her experience managing the fair is both challenging and fruitful. When I meet Swathi in the midst of the fair on a crowded school ground in Malleshwaram, she’s simultaneously trying to look after the crowd, respond to queries and phone calls, and correct a short power failure. “Joining the business was a new experience for me, but it’s wonderful to see people enjoy themselves and our hard work being appreciated,” she says.
The third leg of the Avarekai Mela will be held at Nagarbhavi from January 25 to 29. For more information, call Shri Vasavi Condiments at +91 99451 58881.