Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Andhra Prawn Pickle or Royyala Pachadi

Andhra Prawn Pickle/ Royalla Pachadi
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
Spices and seafood are magic in southern India.  When spices are used to preserve fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood in combination with dried chiles, you’re tapping into the vast culinary treasures that India has to offer with a wealth of thousands of years of pickling.  Each region has their family recipes that are generational and the ancient practice of preservation by curing with salt, vinegar and sugar were a way to keep perishables for longer periods of time.  Especially long after harvest seasons or when droughts or other natural disasters might have caused food scarcity or ruined crops.  The richness of pickling has evolved over centuries and it’s not easy to pinpoint exact recipes or methods of preservation.  

The tradition of pickling can be traced back since time immemorial and perhaps that’s why almost every culture in the world discovered their own methods to preserve their food.  But in India, drying and pickling is a long standing tradition that seems untouched by time.  Particularly so in the southern states of the subcontinent.

My first taste of prawn pickle was in Andhra where I was given a very proper Indian welcome with the most aromatic, unforgettable introduction to the wonderful taste of the preserved coastal prawns.  It was culinary love!  Lyrical descriptive words don’t do it justice.  But I will say that prawn pickle can be described as smoky, sour, tangy, hot, spicy, gingery and savory.  It’s one of the first things I wrote about in my journal.  Those are amazing gastronomical experiences that I’ll never forget.  

After being on the hunt for a really good prawn pickle as I remember in Andhra, I simply could not find one commercially prepared back in the US that had the same amazing flavor.  I longed for the prawn pickle that gave any Indian meal an instant burst of tantalizing flavor.  I romanticized the aroma from my memories and it became an obsession to find it.  I didn’t have such luck.  

I felt the hunger of exoticism and ancient gastronomy, of tea and cardamom, of ginger and golden turmeric, hunger for the sensuality that wakes the senses with the aroma of the wet earth during the monsoons and the sweet and sour of Andhra pickles.  Therefore, in my search I studied many commercial pickles and their flavors, some were described to me orally but not in precise measurements, others I found in books, but not quite the same, until I developed my own recipe for the prawn pickle I had been looking for for so long.  It’s the flavor that took me back to the India I remember, to the people and to the food that harbors so much history and the perpetual fruits of it's land.  

For this particular Andhra prawn pickle or royyala pachadi as it's called in telugu, I think I’ll start my own tradition of pickling recipes and keep this recipe in the family.  But I do hope that all that come to visit me may enjoy what makes this recipe so special, and may we raise our glasses to Indian culinary traditions and to many shared plates.

Photo Leticia Alaniz

Written by Leticia Alaniz © 2017