At Ajam Emba, a Rare Tasting in Jharkhand

The acclaim coming a Ranchi-based food entrepreneur's way is every bit justified for its inventive assimilation of tribal produce and cooking practices.

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A small indigenous meal served on a sal leaf.

Among Jharkhand’s tribal communities, gondli, a historically significant nutrient-rich millet, has increasingly been looked down upon as fodder for cattle. But at Ajam Emba, food entrepreneur Aruna Tirkey’s trailblazing Ranchi restaurant and cooking school run by an all-female staff, this pariah grain, a sort of a ‘wild rice,’ is exalted to the status of dessert.

The tribal diet’s reliance on flowers in place of vegetable components is represented in the restaurant’s sanai phool curry, prepared using the flowers of the locally grown jute crop. Cassia tora, a seasonal leafy herb with a multitude of health benefits, also known as chakod, is represented in a leafy and nutritious jhor (soup), and beng saag makes its way into a chutney. For the past few years, the former rural development professional’s work on curating a menu based on the fare of four regional tribes (Santhal, Oraon, Ho and Munda) has delivered results both healthy and delicious—which translates to ajam emba in Kurukh.

 

At Ajam Emba, A Rare Tasting In Jharkhand

Edible leaves out for drying.

 

The waves Tirkey’s venture have made are starting to topple the poor representation of tribal gastronomy in Jharkhand’s cuisine that leaves dhuska and litti chokha to pocket all the limelight. Barring independent documentation, these strong, produce-driven eating practices rarely see the light of the day. Throughout the state’s cities, those traipsing around in pursuit of a bite usually make for the middling eateries serving generic north Indian fare.

However, at Ajam Emba, which isn’t yet overrun with social media pioneers, one can explore a dynamic regional flavour profile in surroundings that are not distracting, and at perfectly reasonable prices. Dig into slow-cooked handi mutton and lal bhaat, or, if you’re a fish-eater, get some getu or magur curry with some chilka (a traditional rice or millet crepe). Oh, and they also have dhuska. And it goes splendidly with rice tea.

 

This feature appeared in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India January-February 2022.

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A D V E R T I S E M E N T

  • Prannay Pathak dreams about living out of a suitcase and retiring to the island of Hamneskär to watch films in solitary confinement. He is Assistant Editor (Digital) at National Geographic Traveller India.

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