Buknu – The Spice of UP!

You can take a girl out of UP but not UP out of a girl.

As a kid buknu poori and buknu paratha was my staple food at my neighbor’s place in Kanpur. Those were times when you could spend days at someone’s house without having to worry about inconveniencing them or invading their privacy. We half grew up in our neighbors homes, napping in their beds, playing in their lawns, eating in their kitchen.
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The lady of the house, I called her Dadi, and her daughters, I called them bua, fed me the most amazing food every day. It was basic vegetarian food like they make in every home in UP — Dal-Chawal, Paratha-Sabzi, Roti-Sabzi, and yet it was very different from the food made in our house because they belonged to another community. They were Banias, and we were Kayastha. So even though the basic ingredients were same, the masalas and tadkas were different. And that made all the difference.

Buknu was one such thing.

A mixture of many spices, buknu, was not a part of our kitchen but I loved having it nonetheless. It was earthy, musky, tangy, sour, all at the same time. A pinch of this brown powder mae everything better. It brightened up Dal-Rice, brought a zing to curd, and tasted delicious with paratha and butter. I looked forward to eating it at their place everyday — with Dal Chawal, or Pooris, or Paratha, or just licking it off the plate.

In growing up we lose many things, the flavours of our childhood are often lost too. With growing older and eventually moving out of Kanpur, I lost Buknu, and it was not until earlier this year, when someone put it up on Instagram, that I was reminded of it.

Incidentally I happened to go to Lucknow around the same time and remembered to to get a pack of buknu. Since that day buknu is back in my plate every day, and every time I eat it, I am reminded of the large kitchen and even larger hearts if our neighbors in Kanpur. I hope they get to read this somehow.

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