The breakfast tapestry of India is vast and varied. Avantika Bhuyan samples a few traditional variants of the most important meal of the day
Kumol saul with jaggery in Assam; warm, toasty bakarkhanis in Kashmir and poha-jalebi in Indore – it is iconic breakfast delicacies such as these that I look forward to most while travelling across India. In fact, there is no better way to gauge the sheer diversity of the culinary traditions in the country than by sharing a breakfast table with a local in any city or town. While lunch and dinner might feature quick-fix meals such as pastas, soups and salads, many people still prefer going the traditional route when it comes to the first meal of the day. As a result, the regional flavours of luchi, jilipi, puttu, siddu, doodh fara and more, rule the breakfast menu across India. “There is no one way of classifying a staple Indian breakfast. Throughout the country, the options differ from region to region and from community to community,” says Vivek Vaid, founder of Foodadvisor.in, an all-India hospitality and food platform. For example, businessmen belonging to the Sindhi, Marwari and Bania communities believe in eating breakfast like a king. “They eat paratha, dal and sabzi; in Bihar, they might have dal; in Delhi, the first meal might include bedmi aloo and puri and in Punjab, paratha and pyaaz,” Vaid says.
These traditional breakfasts have evolved over a period of time, keeping in mind the migration of people from villages to the cities and the changing pace of lives. Today, the moti roti, in Punjab, has given way to stuffed parathas made with spicy fillings of seasonal vegetables. Similarly, in Maharashtra, the rustic bajra roti and puranpoli are now reserved for weekends, with the quick vada pav being the breakfast of choice for weekdays. However, the one thing that has remained constant over time is the need for breakfasts to be filling and sustaining through the day. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, the tiffin, with its delectable spread of dosa, sambhar, vada, upma and idli, makes for a heavy first meal.
Across India, there are certain dishes that have become synonymous with a particular state’s breakfast tradition. For instance, in Kashmir, it is the bakarkhani, a thick, spiced, biscuit-like flatbread. “It is had for breakfast and also as an evening snack. People usually savour it by dipping it in kahwa (tea),” says Anindya Basu, who writes the food blog, Pikturenama. During his travels in the said state, he came across small bakeries in quaint villages where people would start baking the bakarkhani by 7 am as it is had with the morning kahwa. The state also has a few other delicious surprises. Suman Kaul, master chef – Kashmiri cuisine at ITC Maurya, New Delhi, shares, “Some of the other traditional breakfasts in the state include delicacies made with tachere schout, or rice flour, wheat parathas, luchi with kahwa and methi kaleji with puri.”
Breads are a staple in Himachal Pradesh, where a traditional breakfast is incomplete without siddu – a steamed bread made with wheat, stuffed with onions, chillies and khus-khus. As one moves towards Garhwal, lentils begin to inch their way into the spread, with gahat ki dal being an important dish. “A typical Garhwali breakfast would include gahat ki dal ke parathe and surala or stuffed puris,” says Sunil Kumar, director (food and beverage), JW Marriott, Mussoorie. Born and brought up in the region, Kumar has vivid memories of a hearty breakfast that included delicious dal ke pakode. “For a quick meal, lots of families mix two flours – a dark one like ragi and a white one such as wheat or makki – to make rotis. These would be eaten with pyaaz ki sabzi or onions tempered with the local spice, jakhiya,” he shares.
In the plains, especially in historic cities such as Banaras and Indore that are by the river, the traditional nashta is often bought en route home from the ghats. “This is how the tradition of early morning food stalls came about. Poha became a street food because of these early breakfasts,” says Sangeeta Khanna, a food columnist and the brain behind the blog, Banaras ka Khana. Over the years, the Indori poha has gone on to become iconic. When you visit Indore, visit Chappan Dukaan for a hearty dose of poha and syrupy jalebis, or opt for cool dahi wadas at Joshiji.
Another interesting option is the bhutte ka khees, made of boiled corn, which is then fried and mixed with gram flour, heeng (asafoetida), cumin and other spices. Many variations of poha are also made in Maharashtra. “The kande pohe is considered a delicacy in Pune. Besides this, the vada pav is also had by professionals as a meal on the go,” adds Basu. The traditional breakfast of every region comes with its story, offering a glimpse into the evolution of the area’s culture. “Forty years ago, there were no gas connections in India. So, at my grandparents’ home, we would get jalebi and kachori from the market for breakfast. By the time the ladies had the kitchen running, it was lunch time,” recalls Khanna. According to her, even today, people have a breakfast of chuda matar or matar ki ghughni (peas sautéed in ghee, cumin and garlic) in Banaras.
Muri or puffed rice is had with great gusto in the morning across Assam, Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. “In rural areas, people eat muri with milk and bananas. If it is summer, then it is had with mangoes. The second breakfast staple is dahichuda, in which seasonal fruits are added to up the sugar content,” says Tanushree Bhowmik, who documents and revives old recipes through the blog Fork Tales. On special occasions in Bengal, people mash sandesh (sweets) in dahi-chuda. In Assam, a variant of this is made with kumol saul, a special kind of rice that blooms after being soaked in water for 10-15 minutes. “It is served with sweetened milk and curd. In summer, breakfast in some parts of Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab also includes a big glass of sattu. Usually served as a cool drink, it is made with ground pulses and cereals such as barley and Bengal gram. In urban areas, luchi is had with sada aloo, or a jhol-like curry, without any turmeric,” she says. Triangular parathas are also consumed with chechki (stir fry vegetables). “In winter, in Bengal, we also eat luchi with jhola gur, or the liquid molasses that you get while making khajur ka gud or date jaggery,” says Bhowmik.
As you head south, you notice an increasing use of rice flour to make pancakes and rotis – from the akki roti in Karnataka to the appam and puttu, a steamed rice cake made with grated coconut, in Kerala. “In Tamil Nadu, the sambar that is eaten for breakfast is not had for lunch. Different varieties of sambar are consumed,” says Vaid.
The author is a food writer and the views expressed in this article are her own