Bhunja ki Dukaan: An Exploration of Bihar’s Rich Food Culture and Gender Politics

This piece was rejected by other publications and platforms that found it “interesting but not good enough to be published.” The author was told that it sounds like a “rant” and not a “proper write-up.”

Bhunja ki Dukan literally translates into Dry-Roasted Snack Shops, i.e. small roadside shops that sell roasted dry snacks like peanuts, chana (gram), moori (puffed rice) in many Indian towns and cities. This piece highlights the importance of such dukaans in the State of Bihar as advancing its food culture while reflecting on the gendered politics of such of street spaces.

They do not have a proper name per se, the locality they are situated in gives them their identity -“Birsa Chowk ke woh Bargad ke Ped ke paas wali Bhunja ki dukaan!”

In Ranchi, it is a place where men from the neighbourhood gather to munch chanas, crack open the moongphali, and discuss national politics, their local Netajis, and cricket. Their presence there is a part of this city’s everydayness but for women, their presence is limited to merely being a buyer who rarely goes there alone. The question then persists: why aren’t women welcomed in such places? Why do we never see a group of women sitting and discussing matters that concern them? The answer lies in the age-old gendering of places which considers it dishonourable for women to sit there and chat freely (“Acha lagta hai kya aise aadmi log ke saath baith ke gupp marna?”,  “Wahan baithi rahogi toh ghar kaun sambhalega?”). [Translation: It isn’t ladylike to sit there and talk, if you spend your time there, who will take care of the house?]

 In the few places that I stayed in Delhi, I always had some difficulty in locating these small shacks. The localities where I stayed in were Greater Kailash and Roop Nagar, and the possibility of finding these dukaans there was next to impossible. The only reason I would look for them was to find a little bit of Bihar in Delhi’s melting pot of cultures. 

I knew very well that even if I were to find one, it would be owned by a Bihari who had migrated to this bigger city. Being a Bihari myself, a part of me would start thinking about how these small eateries selling good quality, stomach and soul-filling snacks get labeled as “cheap” and “unhygienic”. 

Why you ask? They are probably not costly enough to suit our class biases, not good-looking enough to see what is in store. Not advertised and vlogged enough for extending our preference. From the small town’s “chai-chane pe charcha wali jagah”, these dukaans more often than not become “chakna stores”, visited by men who need these snacks alongside their drinks. 

I would not tell any of my friends or classmates about visiting such a place unless they were from a small town. I feared their judgment because all that we preach about trying new things and tasting something that we have not before is often practiced in the so-called “safe” and “sophisticated” places. These shacks are surrounded by stereotypes of rustic Bihari men, chewing paan and spitting it on the road, listening to Bhojpuri music, gaudy decorations inside their small shacks filled with C grade movie posters. To top it all, drunk men ogling at women and passing comments make the stereotype of “unsafe place” an unfortunate reality. 

On visiting these dukaans, I would try to resist initiating a conversation, firstly because a girl visiting such shops without her brother or father is uncommon, and on top of that asking questions like, “Aap Bihar se hai?”,  “Bihar mein Kahan se?”,  “Aree meri mummy bhi udhar ki hee hai!”, is unlikely too.

The aroma of fresh hand-roasted peanuts and the lectures on women claiming spaces and not adhering to gendered guidelines would push me into doing it, and voila, the shop keeper would more often than not turn out to be a Bihari.

He is a Bihari who has migrated from his hometown. He personifies the lack of jobs in his own state. He is the Bihari who has moved to a metropolitan city hoping for a better income for his family, so that his children can get education in better schools, colleges, thereby never having to run these shops. This dukaan isn’t about legacy, it is about supporting the family. He is the Bihari who gets labeled as “dehati”. Little do we ponder upon the lack of education, proper health, and sanitation facilities he has received while growing up. We make our judgments too quickly based on “how things look”. 

Speaking generally, Delhi holds a good Bihari population. A major chunk of this population is engaged as construction workers, factory workers, drivers, security guards, and other such blue-collar workers. These small bhunja ki dukaans play a big role in helping them feel at home. Gram or Chana holds a significant place in Bihari food culture. What is primarily consumed in these shops are dried and lightly roasted Chanas. This Chana, when properly baked and powdered, is known as “Sattu” – the main ingredient of Litti Chokha, Sattu ka Paratha, and Sattu ki Sabzi (locally called Boot Besani). In fact, the traditional Bihari drink is known by the same name – “Sattu”, and these dukaans often sell this drink during summers to help their customers tolerate the heat. Interesting to note here is that the labourers who work all day in the sun drink this, it is pocket friendly for them and sustains them for hours. But food or drink is identified by who consumes it – the working class people. 

Strangely enough, only when Madhubani paintings and Tasar silk are talked about, is the culture of Bihar appreciated. If you look carefully, they are beautiful indeed but costly things, sold in places visited by the “better offs” who like collecting different art forms and talking about their wealth, enriching their own status. We tend to forget the not-so-costly things that also make up the State’s culture and identity. 

This makes me think that there are two Bihars (excluding the caste and crime discussion here) – one’s socio-economic status and cultural dynamics determines they fall in which category.

AN Decent Picture

Ananya Nandan

Ananya hails from Ranchi. After completing her Bachelors in Sociology from Lady Shri Ram College, she pursued her Masters at the Delhi School of Economics. Currently, she warms the category of “educated-unemployed”.


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