Keeping the Adivasi food culture alive, Aruna Tirkey is here to serve you some authentic,and traditional recipes from different tribal cuisines at her restaurant ‘Ajam Emba’ in Ranchi.
Before opening up one of its kind restaurants at Kanke road in Ranchi, Aruna Tirkey was working with the UN for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Tirkey holds a PG Diploma in Rural Development and has experience of over 15 years working for the Adivasi communities of Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. In 2016, after winning the first prize for the tribal cuisine in a cooking competition, organized to celebrate International Indigenous Day, she was motivated to revive tribal cuisine and started Ajam Emba, which translates to Delicious food in Kurukh language, spoken by nearly two million Oraon and Kisan tribal people.
“My parents were the connoisseurs of the traditional food too and they have been a big influence on me when it comes to traditional food. My father would collect leafy vegetables like Chakod, and Katai Saag by his hands, and would harvest them. He would encourage me to eat them as they are very nutritious. My mom was also very fond of river fish. So, food was always in my mind and it was an inspiration when I got the idea of putting this concept into a restaurant.”, says Aruna Tirkey.
Tirkey had made a Santhali dish, Jheel peetha in that competition and won the first prize. For her, it was the turning point when she decided to protect the Adivasi cuisine.
Aruna Tirkey has also worked for women and children empowerment for more than a decade. Keeping the same spirit alive in her restaurant too, she has employed tribal women as cooks and even servers. ” We had 12 women earlier in our team, but due to the lockdown and its restrictions, currently, we have only 4.”, she said.
The menu of Ajam Emba has more than 20 authentic dishes from 4 different tribes, namely Santhali, Orean, Ho, and Munda tribe. The restaurant serves steamed dishes like Daal Pitha, and Dungu Peetha( Rice Flour Dumplings), along with Ant egg Bhurji, Handi Mutton, Red Rice, Maar Jhor (Herb Soup), Dhuska, Chutneys made with flowers, and many more traditional dishes.
Talking about the food culture of these tribes, Aruna says, ” Our food has a connection with culture and its rituals. In Santhal and Oraons tribes, the farmers have Dungu before going for the plantation during its season. Also, the Santhal, and Ho tribe, make jheel peetha with a filling of meat, while the Oraons have the filling of Jaggery, and it’s sweet. Both the recipes have the same basic ingredient i.e rice, but the method would be different. The functions and festivals are incomplete without traditional dishes. For example, at funerals, Dubki is there. It has the urad daal and people eat it with rice. During the Sohrai festival (Diwali), people cook the Suri Bhaat which is a type of desi biryani.”, she says.
Ajam Emba sees more than 40 guests every day. The staff does not use any machine and does everything manually with their hands. The chefs here prepare the food with fresh ingredients, some of which are directly sourced from the forest. Aruna procures the ingredients from the rural women. But, for the traditional variety of rice, millet, and forest produce, she get in touch with the farmers. ” Well, sourcing is a challenge, as they are in different districts. I have to travel around at least 45 km and sometimes up to 500 km to get these special ingredients.”, she says.
Seeing the love of people, Aruna has even introduced some fusion recipes to cater to the younger generation. ” There are Dumplings with millet and people just love it. They all go like Madua ka momo best hain. Also, we have different types of Chilka Rotis (crepes), and they are also very popular.”, she adds.
Other than running Ajam Emba, Aruna is also very active in educating people about Adivasi food. ” I am training girls and women in my locality. Also, I take online sessions and workshops on traditional food. I have done one for Kolkata university recently, and I have even spoken in Japan about the same.”, she mentioned.
Ajam Emba is definitely not your regular restaurant. It has done a remarkable job and has brought a genuine change in the mindset of people. The ingredients that were earlier not eaten popularly, have now become people’s favourite. ” There is this one type of millet Gondhli, which we use in one of our desserts. The people of the tribe Monda were using it as fodder. I used to buy Gondhli from them and they would question where would I use it?”
They had a myth that eating Gondhli means you are poor. So, they don’t eat it ke ise khayege to hamare ghar me kuch thik nahi hoga. So, after I started sourcing it for Ajam Emba from these farmers, the production of the millet gradually increased. In fact, people have started eating it too. Also, the same situation was with Maar Jhor, which was also called the food of the poor, but now they have it.”, she said.
After talking to Aruna Tirkey, we can’t wait to gorge on some delicious Adivasi food at Ajam Emba. Before ending this insightful conversation, Aruna Tirkey said, ” It has never been about money. I am just trying to put a concept in front of people. This is the time to go back to our roots and preserve them for the coming generation.”,
Aruna Tirkey is also a member of the International slow food ( An Italian organization that promotes local food and traditional cooking in 150 countries), while Ajam Emba is the first slow food center in Ranchi.
Where: Behind Dr. Rash Kujur Clinic, Near Hotlips, Kanke Rd, Ranchi, Jharkhand.