Adivasi Awaaz creator Anuprava Debbarma writes about different kinds of 'Awaan', a dish prepared from one of the famous traditional food items of Tripuri people, the 'Sticky Rice'.
Food is an inseparable part of every culture. It connects us with our family members, communities and our tribes at large. It creates a sense of belongingness and often serves as a part of our culture and identity. Food is often used as a means of retaining people’s cultural identity. Having said that, the Sticky Rice, or Mami/ Guria Mairum, as we Tripuris call it, forms an important part of the Tripuri cuisine culture and Tripuri identity.
Sticky rice is a type of glutinous rice, although it doesn’t contain any gluten. It is also called waxy rice, as when cooked, it tends to get a sticky and waxy texture along with a slightly sweet taste. It is cultivated all over the state of Tripura. It can be cultivated both in the ‘huk’ (jhum fields) or ‘kheto’ (paddy fields). The sticky rice is called ‘Mami Mairum’ or ‘Guria Mairum’, where ‘Marium' means rice in the Kokborok language. Sticky rice can be cooked in multiple ways. It is an important food item on any occasion or festivity for the Tripuri people.
The sweets prepared from the Mami Mairum are called ‘Awaan/ Awang’ in the Kokborok language. It is cooked and relished in various forms by different tribes of Tripura. Most of them are specifically prepared for special occasions, whereas others can be cooked and enjoyed anytime of the year. Different tribes prepare the Awaans differently and the name of the Awaans also vary. For this article, I have picked names that are used by the Kokborok-speaking tribes.
So here are five delicious ways in which the tribes of Tripura enjoy sticky rice:
Awaan Bangwi/ Awaan Bwthai:
This is undoubtedly the most famous and most loved form of sticky rice. It is prepared by soaking sticky rice overnight and then mixing it with sliced onions, peanuts, grated ginger, grated carrots, salt and a small amount of oil. It is then wrapped tightly with phrynium leaf or banana leaf one by one and steamed over boiling water until it is cooked. Awaan can be consumed without any side dish, but most people prefer eating it with ‘Wahan Mosdeng’ (Spicy pork salad/ bharta prepared in Tripuri style). No Tripuri festival is complete without this Awaan.
To prepare ‘Awaan Sokrang’, the rice is soaked overnight, as in the previous case, but the method of cooking is different from the former. Instead of wrapping it with leaves, the rice is steamed in an earthen pot with small holes. The pot is placed on top of another pot which is filled with hot boiling water. Both these pots are then sealed with wet soil to prevent any steam from escaping. It is mostly enjoyed during winter as breakfast along with Wahan Mosdeng or any other type of ‘Mosdeng’ (Tripuri bharta).
Fanswi’ basically means to wrap around or to roll. Hence, these are rolled rice dumplings stuffed with grated coconut and sugar. It looks very similar to the Bengali sweet/ pitha ‘Patishapta’, however, the taste and the texture are much different from it. The Patishapta tends to be soft and jiggly whereas Awaan Fanswi is brittle and firm. For this recipe, one needs the flour of sticky rice. The sticky rice is soaked overnight and then drained ensuring the rice is devoid of any water. After this the sticky rice is pounded in a huge wooden mortar pestle. The involvement of two people in this process eases the task. After that, the pounded rice is sieved to obtain fine flour. The coarse flour that remains after sieving is used in another recipe. The Awaan is prepared in a steel or aluminium wok by evenly laying/ spreading the flour. It is then stuffed with grated coconut and sugar, and rolled. It is usually prepared on special occasions such as ‘Haangrai’ (Makar Sankranti) or ‘Hojagiri’ (Laxmi Puja).
Faaf ni Awaan:
These are steamed rice cakes stuffed with grated coconut and sugar. It is called ‘Dhuli Pitha’ or ‘Bhapa Pitha’ in Bengali. It is also prepared in the neighbouring state of Assam as well as in Bangladesh. The rice flour is obtained in a similar way as mentioned in the previous recipe. It is then stuffed with grated coconut and sugar and filled in small bowls. These bowls are then placed over a hollow lid, which is placed over a pot of boiling water. After this, it is steamed one for 2-3 minutes. The cooking time usually depends on the size of the bowl used. This dish is prepared only on special occasions or events.
The coarse grainy flour left after sieving; in the above Awaans (fanswi and faaf ni awaan), is used in this recipe. The coarse flour of the sticky rice is mixed with water to create a thick pancake-like consistency and then deep fried until it becomes brown on the outside. The speciality of this awaan is that it can be made both as sweet and salty as per the preferences. The texture of these Awaans are super soft and sticky. This type of Awaan can be prepared with the usual rice as well, but the use of sticky rice gives it a different texture, taste and fragrance.
Most of these recipes involve laborious work and great expertise. Yet the women of different tribes take great interest in it. They prepare these dishes wholeheartedly, in order to keep their food culture alive. It is also a source of income for many tribal women. It must be noted that it is the endeavour of these women that has kept the traditional cuisine of Tripura up and thriving. The credit of passing these traditional recipes along different generations, also goes to these women. All these food items not only taste amazing, but also have nutritional values. In my opinion, everyone should try them at least once.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.