Beautiful Araku Valley, nestled in the Eastern Ghats, amidst thick forests, rich wildlife and indigenous tribes with their distinct cultures, is bound to be on the bucket list of anyone who loves to travel.
Less than 100 kilometres from this famous destination in Visakhapatnam district of Andhra, is the tiny village of Chaparai. Invariably, those who visit Araku also visit the waterfalls in this village, known simply as the Chaparai waterfalls.
Chaparai is lined with roadside hotels, tiny huts known as 'pakas' which serve a dish that's become a hit with tourists. Called 'Bongu Chicken' or 'Bamboo Chicken', the delicious dish is a specialty in the region.
Bujji K, who manages one such 'paka', spoke to TNM about the dish, how it's made and it's place in the history of her tribe.
27-year-old Bujji, her husband Baburao and three kids, were in Vijayawada recently to participate in the National Craft Bazaar which was hosted by the government of Andhra Pradesh to promote rural crafts and arts.
And why were they selected? For their Bamboo Chicken, of course! The dish made at their 'paka' was considered to be better than any of the others'.
At the 'paka', Bujji is busy cleaning the chicken, chopping it into pieces, and arranging various ingredients in a utensil while also attending to customers.
She gently mixes the chicken pieces with the ingredients in the utensil.
"We don't use any oil in it. But we use local stuff such as salt, chilli, turmeric, ginger-garlic paste and coriander leaves," she shares.
Making the chicken is an art. The pieces should be mixed with the paste but the stirring should be done in such a way that it does not damage any of the pieces. The meat should soak in the masala for a while, till it absorbs the flavour of the ingredients.
Once Bujji is assured that the chicken has soaked enough, she takes a fresh bamboo stem, about half a metre long, and forest leaves.
She stuffs around 150 to 250 gms of chicken into the bamboo stem and adds, "We need to pack the stem with leaves after every stuffing. We can stuff up to 1 kg for a stem."
Bujji smiles when asked about the recipe.
"What is there to learn about it? We got it from our 'Thathalu" (ancestors), it is healthier," she says, as she takes the stuffed bamboo stem to the lit pile of firewood.
The stem goes into the fire for half an hour to 45 minutes. Her husband, Baburao, joins her and takes care of the stem till the dish is done.
"We need to turn the stem every 10 minutes. Only then will it get enough heat from all sides. The stem has to get the same dark colour all through," he says.
Though 'Bamboo Chicken' has become synonymous with the Valley thanks to tourists who've given it global fame, it is an old dish that has been among Bujji's people for generations.
"I don't think you'll be able to call it by the name we do," Bujji says with a smile. "It's called Kufiya Sidira or Veduru Sidira."
The former name comes from the Adivasi language while the latter is a mix of Telugu and the Adivasi language.
"Bujji, it's done!" calls out Baburao. Bujji picks the bamboo stem out of the fire and carefully removes the leaves from the stem. She then serves the hot 'sidira' (chicken) on leaves.
But she isn't done yet. In comes the garnishing - sliced onions and lemons with slices of green chilli to heighten the taste.
200 gms of this mouthwatering dish costs Rs 150. But Bujji, the businesswoman, also offers food packages for those traveling as families or couples.
In tourist season, Bujji's bamboo chicken can fetch her anything between Rs 10,000 to nearly 20,000.