Bachka: Sharing Home With a Snack

by Duaa Amir

An evening snack becomes a reminder of one’s origins and the ephemerality of migrant identity—forming relationships with people, places, ingredients, and ideas results in soul-searching.

Nani and Nana Abu with me at their house, 2002, Karachi.

Courtesy of the author.

Dost, aaj khane mein bachka ho jaye?’ (Friend, should we have Bachka today?) he would say, partly requesting and partly hoping that it must be on Nani’s mind too. Nani would look away as if not pleased with his proposal, but I could see a smile break through her pursed lips as she took out the packet of rice flour from the lower cabinets in the kitchen. Then began the process of making bachka as we sat around the table awaiting Maghrib—a small fraction of time preceding sunset that has now come to define much of my identity in an odd way. 


Dost’ (‘friend’) is how Nana Abu addressed Nani. And this is exactly how I remember their relationship: two friends who spent their lives building homes in new lands, and now spent their time longing and reminiscing. A lot of things were not explicitly said despite Nana Abu being an expressive and eloquent speaker, but I was made to eat bachka and it was passed around the table as if to say, ‘Here’s a declaration of love to a faraway land, and to you.’ 


Bachka is a Bihari snack that I didn’t know much about, until many years later. It was different, and didn’t particularly appease my Karachiite taste-buds, but I knew it was important. Now food can be many things, flavorful, tez (spicy), pheeka (bland), but bachka was important. Making bachka is simple. ‘Anyone can make itNani tells me. Can I make it though? For now, looking at her making it, and memorising the steps should suffice. 


Green chickpea is added in a batter of rice flour with black pepper, red chilies and salt, all according to andaaz (estimate). The runny batter is poured into hot oil using a ladle, which Nani termed ‘karchul’, a word not commonly used here. She heard it from her mom and her aunt and they must have heard it back in Bihar. I have grown to realise how important it is to name inanimate objects; because even though they might not have a singular origin, they too belong to places. And invariably, connect us to those places. Although, if you’re wondering whether this karchul is from Bihar, it is not.


Tangible things like this karchul have a shelf-life. At one point, you will have to stop using it, if it doesn’t help you pour a cup full of bachka batter. But that’s not true for the bachka itself. An undercooked, misshapen, soggy bachka is still a bachka if you can spot green chickpea in it. To make something so foreign is an act of courage. To cook something and to mess it up, and to love it nonetheless. Then you must keep cooking it over and over again until it grows on you, until the greasy unusual taste settles in. It could be relatively easier to love something that you can hold, but having to love something that only exists through labour, like a bachka, requires effort. 

The laborious task of peeling the green chickpeas was usually undertaken by Nana Abu. ‘He used to peel the peas himself during the daytime, do you remember?’ Nani asks me and I nod in agreement. I also learned that this green chickpea was called ‘jhingri chanaa’ in Bihar and came straight from the bush, the size of which Nani elaborated by a gesture of hands. Here, it’s just ‘hara chana.’

Nani and Nana Abu with me in a 2002 picnic in Dreamworld Resort, the buffet at which they loved.

Karachi, Courtesy of the author.

Effort also came in the form of eating mouthfuls of bachka at the dining table upon Nana Abu’s insistence. Because to love him meant that I had to eat it. And of course, cooking it is the highest form of effort that Nani graciously undertook.


‘Why did you continue making bachka, when you have never been to Bihar?’ I ask Nani as we stand in the kitchen and the sun begins its descent. ‘Inhein bahut pasand tha’ (He liked it) and ‘anyone who came to our house and ate it, liked it’ she said. 


I like it too, now, I thought. It is that one thing that makes me a Bihari. I break the freshly fried bachka into pieces and put one in my mouth. The crust is crisp and the green chickpea pops between my teeth, but the core is still soft. This is what a perfect bachka tastes like. I eat as I stand at the kitchen entrance and I think of home and migration. When exactly was I introduced to the idea of home being more than just where I live?—But, also of where I’m from and where I could go. 

I could just carry the memory—of bachka and Maghrib, Nana Abu and Nani—and move. Then, if ever I am to make bachka, I will use what I know and what I have seen, and create something out of ingredients that I can find. It might resemble a bachka, but it will surely take up space at the dining table. And I will eat it, and my friends will eat it, as we wait for the sun to set, for Maghrib to ensue. And only then, will a foreign land feel a little less foreign, and a little more like home.

Baba, Nana Abu and me on my “Chatti”, traditionally celebrated on the sixth day after birth, (mine was celebrated later for reasons unknown), when a child is made to write their name and ‘Bismillah’ which is something that we say before beginning anything; in this case, at the beginning of life. Karachi, 2002.

Courtesy of the author.

Also read: Reclaiming My Bihariness

* ‘Baba’ refers to Father; ‘Nana Abu’ refers to maternal grandfather and ‘Nani’ refers to maternal grandmother.

About the author

Duaa Amir is a medical student and a passionate advocate for health equity, based in Karachi. A 2022 South Asia Speak fellow, she is interested in conducting research on food from South Asia and documenting its intersection with history and culture.  


She is on Instagram: @dua_amir