A Taste Of Avakai: Pickling Mangoes As A Summer Tradition
Image Credit: Geetha Bhascker Dhaassyam demonstrates the making of avakai

IS THERE any activity that is as quintessentially Telugu as the making of avakai in the summer? The magical mix of ava (mustard) with kaya (raw mango) is a much-awaited ceremony in Telugu households. Though most regions in the country have their own versions of the mango pickle, it is elevated into an art form in the twin Telugu states due to the power and pull of nostalgia, its deep significance for families, and its time-honoured place as a summer ritual.

Representing continuity, abundance and prosperity, the ritual of making avakai is as important as the pickle itself. Those who make the pickle are particular about the size and type of the mango, the grinding of the ginger-garlic paste, the quality of chili powder and salt used, as well as the containers they are stored in.

My grandmother used to insist the house be washed before the day of pickling, and since the kitchen was the natural setting for the task, kids were banished from the area for that duration. We were only called when the process was complete and piping hot rice was added into the vessels and mixed by hand to ensure that whatever did not make its way into the jars made it into our stomachs! Till today, the ritual of eating avakai, ghee, and rice remains a cherished tradition for many families on the day of pickling.

While some families make their traditional pickles during the days of Rohini Karthi (the hottest days of summer), many make them just after the Amavasya of Vaigasi month, which usually falls in May.

As nuclear families are the order of the day and busy careers do not allow people to take time out for labour-intensive recipes and cooking practices, this ritual of community is slowly being relegated to the margins. Places like Hyderabad’s Culinary Lounge are conducting sessions to ensure that these traditions do not fall by the wayside. Similar to cake-mixing events for Christmas, these are attempts to share the stories of Telugu history and culture.


While every region has its own time-honoured recipes and methods, most have the same ingredients (give or take a couple): mangoes, ginger, garlic, cumin, mustard, fenugreek, oil and salt.

Variations could be in the type of raw mango chosen for making the pickle, the ingredients, or the method of pickling. Many in Andhra Pradesh prefer native varieties like Rasalu, Jalalu or Kothapalli kobbari for their avakai. While gingelly or sesame oil is traditionally used in Andhra, Telangana swears by groundnut oil.

Author and actor Geetha Bhascker Dhaassyam states, “Every house has its own version. I make it in the Telangana style, which is a little spicier, and the mangoes are not dried or boiled. I usually make it after the first summer showers and use the Tella Gulabi variety of mango, which has a slightly sour or sweet taste.”

Every aspect of avakai making is scrutinised and steeped in tradition. Made in many varieties, some add jaggery, others boil the mangoes; and there are iterations that use lemon, amla, and even cauliflower. Ingredients are sourced only from trusted vendors, and cotton saris are used to secure the jars of pickles (once made) so that air and moisture do not seep in.

The mangoes are washed thoroughly and chopped into six or eight pieces to ensure that the core of the mango is attached to each of the halves, which gives the piece strength and avoids sagging after being marinated.

Also interesting is the cultural significance and ritualistic process involved. The ceramic jars used to store the pikes are decorated with vermillion and turmeric, while my mother insists on lighting an incense stick and allowing its vapours to waft inside the jar for some time, which she says removes any traces of moisture.

Cookery expert and author Jyothi Valaboju calls it a unique Telugu experience. “It is a complete family experience: kids cleaning the mangoes with soft cotton saris, the matriarchs directing other women, and the invocation of Goddess Annapurna before you start. It is culinary, spiritual, and cultural. No other experience comes close.”


Pickle culture in India dates back thousands of years, originating with the simple preservation of cucumbers and other vegetables in salt. In India, nearly everything that can be pickled is pickled: plums, cherries, vegetables, sprouted fenugreek seeds, bamboo shoots, fat gooseberries, and green walnuts.

Like other cultural staples, avakai was born out of necessity. Earlier, when resources were scarce, this was an ideal way of preparing food that could last for a year, was relatively cheap to make, and could be had with everything from rice to dosa and idli, staples of south Indian food.

What is needed today is documentation, as people are slowly losing touch with the stunning diversity we have. Call it lack of time or changing food habits, but many make a single variety today (my grandmother used to make 21 varieties in the ‘90s) owing to constraints of time, tastes, and energy.

Jyothi agrees and says, “This is an intangible cultural legacy. I make a sesame-based avakai that uses no chili powder, and there are varieties ranging from coconut to cucumber and green gram. Just the two Telugu states show us the wealth of our inherited legacy; it is a true representation of our culture.”

Avakai is an integral part of the Telugu way of life. Even today, it is customary for newlyweds to receive gifts of avakai in the first year from friends and family.

On manchi roju (good days according to the Telugu calendar) it is a must to share pickles with others, which completes the folklore. “Gifting avakai is one of the best parts of making it,” smiles Geetha, adding, “Even 30 years ago, my husband insisted on sharing the newly made pickle with relatives, and today we gift more than we consume.”

The ritual of making avakai is more than just a culinary practice — it's a celebration of continuity, abundance, and the enduring spirit of community. In a world that is so rapidly evolving, it will remain at the heart of culinary tradition because of the significance it holds in the Telugu way of life.