"Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t," reads a recent tweet by American academic Tom Nichols. This statement set off a war on Twitter, and it was interesting to read the variety of responses that followed.
Comments ranged from accusing Nichols of lacking taste buds to some offering to cook for him, yet some others pointing him to the restaurants that serve good Indian food. One among these responses explained to Nichols that it was ‘pointless to lump all the diverse cuisines of India into one category’. This remark got me thinking about our truly diverse breakfast menus.
While it is perfectly possible for someone to dislike the Indian cuisine, it would surprise me if there isn’t at least one thing for everyone in our very eclectic breakfast menu. Breakfast options in the west typically include eggs, toast, meats and coffee or tea, but the Indian breakfast menu happens to be far more extensive. Some may argue that the west offers pancakes, waffles and french toast, while we have puris, parathas and kachoris, hence there is little difference.
The difference, however, is in how we combine a variety of flavours and incorporate seasonality and region-specific foods into our breakfast menu. In the winter months, parathas are a hot favourite for breakfast in north India. These parathas are almost always stuffed with gobi, mooli or methi. When these veggies go out of season, the quintessential onion or ajwain ki roti/paratha takes over. This is usually eaten with dahi as an accompaniment, which is a perfect combination in terms of taste and nutrition.
The breakfast menu in Rajasthan includes millet preparations such as bajra rotis, eaten with pickles made from veggies grown in that region. Venture southwards and the options change to idli, dosa, vada, upma and appams, which are all-time favorites. The millet that finds favour in these parts is ragi.
Ragi goes into the preparation of almost all kinds of foods in the region, including dosa. Pittu, another popular dish in the south, is made with rice and coconut, and is eaten with a curry made from chickpea (Kadala curry). The western part of India has a range of completely different breakfast options – thepla, khakra, rotla, poha, dhokla and sabudana preparations.
In east India, sattu reigns supreme in various forms – as a sweet or savoury drink or stuffed in roti/paratha. Another staple breakfast food here is dahi-chidwa. The beaten rice is softened by washing and soaking it briefly in water and eating it with dahi. To this, one could add either jaggery or spices and salt for flavour.
Interestingly, certain dishes that are popular across all these regions are found under different names. Cheela made with moong dal or besan, paired with chutney, dahi or pickle, is one such dish. Similarly, porridge prepared with different grains (broken wheat/amaranth/vermicelli) is a popular breakfast food in all parts of India. Breakfast continues to be the most important meal of the day, and the extensive Indian menu gives us little reason to skip it.