Ajam Emba is located in the city of Ranchi, Jharkhand. Ajam Emba is a catering company and restaurant aiming to fight the disappearance of India’s tribal cuisines by bringing indigenous flavors and ingredients to urban tables. Ajam Emba, Managed by indigenous women (Aruna Tirkey), who also staff a cooking school empowering their peers to turn their cooking skills into successful businesses, Ajam Emba aims to help preserve India’s indigenous cultural heritage – and serve delicious food in the process.
Aruna Tirkey, a member of Jharkand’s indigenous Oraon community, grew up eating millet as a staple grain, and had slowly watched its displacement from her community’s diet. When she saw millet being advertised at a steep markup at a new, urban department store – the price so high many members of her own community couldn’t afford it – she decided to take action.
“Ajam Emba” means “great tasting, healthy food” in the Oraon’s people’s Kurukh language, and the restaurant’s food lives up to its name. The menu features traditional dishes such as fermented rice tea and marh jhor, herbs cooked in brown rice starch. Visitors can also sample playful, indigenous-influenced modern takes on popular snacks, such as millet momos, chicken-and-vegetable-stuffed dumplings that are a common Indian street food. The menu offers guests a taste of regional ingredients that are hard to find anywhere else. Rather than using industrially farmed chickens, for example, the chicken is desi, or local: a smaller bird whose meat is said to have a richer flavor. Come at the right season, and you can taste sanei phool or jute flower curry.
The small space is staffed by women from nearby villages, who come to attend cooking classes and earn money to support their communities. For Aruna Tirkey, the project isn’t just about serving tasty food: It’s about fostering pride in adivasi culture. That’s good news for visitors, who, by supporting the preservation of this culinary knowledge, are also sure to have a one-of-a-kind experience: As global as cuisine has become, you’d be hard-pressed to find jute flower curry at the supermarket.