I recently heard about food festivals in Bangalore that are centred around specific ingredients, and rather than being hosted in some expensive hotel for a couple of days, these festivals are held on the streets of Bangalore for at least a week. Nearly half a year ago, when the Kadalekai (Kannada for Peanut) Mela (Festival) was held, I heard about it only after it happened. In late December, when I heard that the Avarekai Mela was happening, I jumped at the opportunity to experience it.
Avarekai – Kannada for the Lablab bean (or the Indian bean, Egyptian bean, Hyacinth bean or Australian pea) – is popular with locals when in season: you’ll see its skin strewn in front of homes across Bangalore. Legend goes that if the skins are stepped on or trampled over on the roads, the food cooked using the bean gets more flavourful. (I don’t know about that part, but I do know that by the end of the season, I’m pretty sick of my mom using it in everything she makes.)
That the Lablab bean is an amazingly versatile ingredient is something I discovered after I went for the Avarekai Mela. Held on the street adjacent to Sajjan Rao Circle, by a very enterprising woman who runs a sweets and savouries store on the same road, the Avarekai Mela showcased the many ways in which the little green bean can be used – from Ragi Dosa to Kod Vadai to Payasam. Thousands of people walked up and down the street, trying out the many delicacies on display, getting straight off girdles and frying pans to environment-friendly disposable plates; buying coupons for the food took an awfully long time because the queue was insanely long.
I sampled everything, of course, and didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day. My four most favourite dishes were:
The Nippattu – a sort of fried flat bread-ish snack made with green gram flour, spices, peanuts and in this case, Avarekai. It was crispy through and through, with the Avarekai adding delicious crunch to the mix.
Avarekai Payasam – made with milk, jaggery, fresh ground coconut, cardamoms and Avarekai. It was the first time I tasted the Lablab in a sweet dish and, my goodness, I was amazed. The distinct flavour of cardamom with the slightly nutty Avarekai and earthy tones of the jaggery made for a new, novel, and very memorable taste.
Avarekai Masala Vada – Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, another classic dish at the mela.
Kod Vadai – Did you know that Lablab can be ground to a paste and mixed with curd and spices and then rolled into circles and deep fried? Well, now you do. If I ever meet the person who invented it, I will fall at their feet and hail them as the next best thing after the printing press.
Want to get a taste of similar melas yourself? Here’s how:
– Look out for listings/mentions in the local newspapers. Unfortunately, they’re not a big enough event to have a dedicated Facebook page, nor are they as fancy. So newspapers are the only way to know about them.
– When in doubt, Google.
Getting there: Grab an auto/taxi to Sajjan Rao Circle. I wouldn’t recommend driving there – parking is excruciatingly hard to find.
Go if: You like experimenting with food, love food, and are happiest trying out new flavours.