No Worries Curries Blog: North India

Variety in Indian Breakfasts

By Conchita de Souza

Variety in Indian Breakfasts

If variety is the spice in your life, you are going to love this post which delves into the myriad of breakfast items offered by different regions across India. Indian breakfasts comprise a broad spectrum of dishes, flavours and textures ensuring that your start to the day is as exciting and tasty as can ever be. Such dishes are traditionally prepared fresh first thing in the morning. If a dish involves lentils or pulses, these are usually soaked overnight so they cook faster the next day. 

Some of the common themes in the breakfast items include flatbread items, reliance on lentils and pulses and a variation of pancake-like dishes. Whilst savoury flavours dominate, there are also items to satisfy our sweet-toothed friends, yours truly included. 

All of the dishes we have listed are either vegetarian (V) or vegan (VG) with the appropriate designation placed after the name. It is a testament to the diversity and variety of vegetarian/vegan options that have long existed in India. 

North India

  1. Stuffed parathas (VG) - an absolute favourite of mine when served with plain dahi and a steaming cup of chai. This is a popular street food and dhaba item as well. The flattened wholemeal bread can be stuffed with anything but popular ingredients include potato, onions, radish and cauliflower. What would be your first preference?

    Image: Stuffed paratha in the making

  2. Poha (VG) - This is a dish made from beaten rice and can double up as a tiffin (lunchbox) item too. The Maharashtrians like to add onion and potato as well and call it Kanda Batata Poha (kanda means onion and batata means potato). A tadka of cumin seeds, onions, curry leaves and chilli is prepared before adding the soaked rice and mixing it through. Garnished with fresh coriander, fried peanuts and lemon.
  3. Jalebis with milk (V) - You cannot go past this dish if you are the kind that prefers a sweet start to the day. Jalebis are spiral-shaped and made from a mixture of plain flour, chickpea flour and yoghurt. They are then fried in ghee and soaked in a sugary syrup infused with cardamom and saffron. Traditionally, jalebis are served with rabri/rabdi (akin to condensed milk) but you can have them with milk as well. 

    Image: Sweet sweet jalebis

  4. Poori Halwa - (V) Another sweet one to start the day. Deep fried wholemeal flatbread breads are used to scoop up semolina that has been cooked in ghee and sugar and garnished with dried nuts and fruit. See cover image.

East India

  1. Radhaballabhi (VG) - This is another type of poori from West Bengal that is stuffed with spiced urud dhal and then deep fried. It can be eaten on its own or served alongside a spicy potato dish or a thick dhal. 
  2. Luchhi Cholar (VG) - An iconic breakfast combination in Bengali homes consists of soft and flaky pooris (made from white flour instead of wholewheat) served with a thick channa dhal that contains chunks of coconut and warming spices such as cumin and garam masala
  3. Ghugni (VG) - Another popular street food item served in the eastern states of West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar is ghugni. It is similar to channa chole (chickpea curry) but instead uses dried white peas as the main pulse and is cooked in a spicy and tangy gravy made from tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and other spices. 
  4. Koraishutir Kachori (VG) - This poori is made with plain white flour and stuffed with mildly-spiced green peas that are ground to allow for ease of stuffing. 

    Image: Kachoris and chai

South India

  1. Dosa (VG) - You can’t go past a classic dosa which is a staple breakfast item for many hailing from the south of India. Restaurants here serve over-sized crispy cylinder-like dosas, but when made at home the dosas resemble the French crepe. They are served with a piping hot sambhar, or coconut and tomato chutneys, if you prefer a lighter variation. 
  2. Idli (VG) - These are steamed fermented rice cakes and are almost always eaten with chutneys on the side. 
    Image: Stuffed idlis served with sambhar 

  3. Upma (VG) - A savoury dish made from semolina and a tadka consisting of curry leaves, mustard seeds and dried kashmiri chillies. 
    Image: Upma

  4. Appam (VG) - Native to Kerala and Sri Lanka (where they are known as hoppers), appams are crepes made from a batter of fermented rice and fresh coconut that have a pillow-like appearance. My favourite way to eat them is with sweet coconut milk poured over. They are traditionally had with stew like this vegetable one pictured below.
    Image: Appam and stew 

West India 

  1. Pav bhaji (V) - Commonly sold as a street food, pav bhaji consists of a spicy mix of roughly pureed vegetables (potato, capsicum, cauliflower) slathered over a white bread buns that have been buttered and toasted on a tava. Don’t forget to garnish your dish with finely diced onions, a squeeze of lemon and more butter for good measure. 
  2. Andha Burji - One of my all time favourite breakfast items is spiced scrambled eggs. You could never return to normal scrambled eggs once you have had these and you can whip this dish up with just pantry ingredients. The Parsi community has a similar variation called Andha Aakoori which is also worth a try.
  3. Thalipeeth (VG) - A savoury pancake made from a mixture of spices, fresh ingredients like onion and tomato and from chickpea flour and wholewheat flour (atta). A Gujarati version of this is called Pudla and uses semolina in place of flour. Tomatoes and onions are replaced by green peppers and ginger. Yoghurt is added to the mix which makes the pancake very soft. 
  4. Khaman Dhokla - Synonymous with all things Gujarati, this dish is unlike anything you have experienced. It is a steamed cake made from a mix of chickpea flour and semolina with a dash of lemon juice. Once the batter has fermented, it is steamed and garnished with a tadka of mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and green chilli. 
  5. Puran Poli (VG) - Enjoyed during festivals and celebrations, puran poli is a sweet dish that consists of flatbreads stuffed with dried and sweetened filling of channa dal, nutmeg and cardamom.
  6. Filos (V) - This is a classic Goan breakfast item and is much like your classic banana pancakes but with a few twists - atta instead of plain flour, jaggery in place of sugar and the addition of coconut. In my humble and biased opinion, these are much tastier!

Which of the above is our favourite or which would you like to try? Comment below and let us know.

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The Taj Mahal - An Indian Love Story This Valentine’s Day

By Conchita de Souza

The Taj Mahal - An Indian Love Story This Valentine’s Day

As synonymous with India as it is with love - the majestic Taj Mahal is in fact a sepulchre built from an emperor’s utter love and devotion to his wife and mother of his children. Whilst most of you would be familiar with the sight, you may not have come across the story behind the Taj Mahal - of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz. As it just so happens to be Valentine’s Day, I would like to unravel it for you, along with the story of my first encounter with this timeless mausoleum (which happens to be one of the seven wonders of the world).

Whenever my family visited India, our trip was always divided between Goa and Bombay, located on India’s west coast. These places were where our relatives lived and holidays in India meant creating as many memories as we could with them to make up for our semi-permanent absence in their lives.

Despite having travelled many times to India throughout my childhood, my first visit to the Taj was soon after I had turned twenty-four. I had joined a year-long fellowship program* and was placed with an organisation in Noida, a suburb just outside of India’a capital - Delhi. At random, a few of my co-fellows and I planned a trip to Agra, the host city of the Taj Mahal, and located around 3.5 hours drive from Delhi. We hopped on board a rickety government bus all the way to Agra and arrived in the bustling and crowded part of the old city. The monsoons had by now reduced to trickles and the air was filled with a lingering humidity that intensified as the morning wore off.

My co-fellows and I met with a fellow named Ram from the previous batch who was local to the city. He would be our guide for the day and we ended up staying at the hotel run by his father the very same night. We quickly scoffed down some street food (I can’t remember what it was, but I do remember that it was spicy) and lined up to get our entry tickets. A large wall surrounds the compounds of the Taj Mahal, and though I could see her white peaks, I couldn’t see anything else until our queue finally snaked into the entrance gateway. And such an exquisite entrance could only be the prelude to something far more magical.

Entrance to Taj Mahal

Entrance to the Taj Mahal

And there she was standing tall and majestic, in all her glory and splendour. White as pearl and full of radiance. One almost felt inclined to bow down in her presence. The design of the Taj was influenced by Mughal, Hindu and Persian architecture and the three styles are beautifully intertwined. The attention is in the detail they say, and this couldn’t be more applicable when writing of the Taj.  Materials came from as far as China and Afghanistan and included different variations in marble and twenty-eight different precious and semi-precious stones. What amazed me even more whilst exploring its interiors, was the intricate floral designs carved out from the marble, appearing as effortless as someone drawing with pencil on paper. To the left of the Taj is a mosque and to the right is a guesthouse, both of which are identical in outer appearance.

After exploring the buildings and battling the constant stream of tourists (most of whom were locals), my co-fellows and I sat down in a shaded area on the cooling marble floors, unable to comprehend just how beautiful and magnificent a structure can be manifested out of romantic love.

Emperor Shah Jahffan was a Mughal** ruler and had one of the wealthiest empires of the time. He met and fell in love with Arjumand Banu (whom he renamed Mumtaz, meaning ‘Jewel of the Palace’), an intelligent, caring and beautiful princess from Persia and was betrothed to her when they were both teenagers. It has been well-documented that although Jahan had two wives before he married Mumtaz, she was always the love of his life and he shared a profound connection with her. She was always by his side and influenced his political and military strategies. The people loved Mumtaz, for she was considerate towards others. She also gave him a mere fourteen children, seven of whom died in their infancy. The year was 1631 and it was during the birth of Mumtaz’s fourteenth child that she experienced severe haemorrhaging and died to the pain-stricken grief of her husband and children.

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz

A painting of the lovers. Artist unknown.

Shah Jahan was a patron of the arts, especially architecture. He was also responsible for building Jama Masjid and Red Fort, both located in Old Delhi. He wanted his beloved’s earthly resting place to be as close to paradise as possible, and set about working with architects to recreate heaven on earth. He consumed himself with this project as a distraction from the grief and emptiness. Work on the Taj Mahal began, and it would take 20 years (surprisingly expedient considering the fact that there was no mechanical equipment at the time), 1,000 elephants and nearly 22,000 labourers, artisans, craftsmen, calligraphers and masons to complete the project.

Soon after completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan fell ill and was deposed by his son Aurangzeb. By this time, Shah Jahan had become unpopular because of his ridiculous expenditure on building the Taj and other grand structures at the expense of his kingdom’s basic needs. He entered into unsuccessful battles for land, which also put a strain on the economy. His sons fought amongst each other for the throne and Aurangzeb was victorious and deposed his father and imprisoned him in Agra fort located on the other side of the Jumuna River and from which Shah Jahan could view the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan died eight years later, in 1666 and was buried next to his beloved in the Taj.

I was sad to leave the Taj Mahal that day and if time permitted, I could have sat there for hours more, merely gazing in awe at its appearance. The story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz spurred ruminations - was it love or selfishness that gave rise to the Taj Mahal? Did Shah Jahan want the Taj to be an ode to his love for Mumtaz or a symbol of his reign and prowess forever etched in history? Were he and Mumtaz reunited in paradise? Will I ever find someone who loves me enough to build such a grand structure in my honour? I put my questions to rest and left the Taj Mahal to explore the other delights Agra had to offer.

Cheesy pose 

*A fellowship is like an internship, but more focused on professional development and is usually undertaken in more of a communal setting.

** Rulers of Islamic faith

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