Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tasting Notes: India

Much as I love Indian food -- especially Indian food in India -- I have usually opted for the Western style breakfasts when travelling there. The exception has been in southern India -- in states like Karnateka and Tamil Nadu -- where hotels offer freshly made dosa. In those states, if you look towards the back of the breakfast room, you will invariably find a dosa station, with a chef preparing the wafer thin, crispy foot-long pancakes on a griddle and wrapping them around spicy potatoes and onions. But now I was further north in Pune, in the state of Maharashtra.

Who knows why, then, that the Indian breakfast at the Deccan Royaale Hotel suddenly seemed appealing. I found myself drawn to "upma", cream of wheat thickened to a stiffness, and seasoned with mustard seeds, green chilis, ginger, onions and kari leaves. Suddenly it seemed perfectly natural to be eating these flavors for breakfast -- and I loved how a new vista had opened. I am looking forward to exploring my way through more early morning choices!

Turns out upma is a south Indian dish too, though popular now throughout India. I am keen to try it in the south though. If the Deccan's dosa was anything to go by, the upma was probably nothing like how it tastes closer to its home. For one thing, the dosas were not freshly made, and for another, their regal size had been cut down to bite-sized mushy pieces. ("Cut dosa", they were labelled.) But once you have had a freshly made dosa, nothing else will do. My colleague Bharath, himself from the south, felt sure that the kitchen could come up with a fresh dosa, and he was right. But while he was eventually served something that looked closer to the real thing, the taste missed the mark. To the south then, next time. I will try to wangle an invitation from him to Chennai!

Update: On June 15, 2011, Floyd Cardoz won the Top Chef Masters contest with a dish of mushroom upma. Click to here to see the announcement in the Times of India. 


bj said...

Upma is literally salt (uppu) and flour (maav). The flour is rava (semolina?) and depending on which part of south india you are at, it can be referred to as upma, uppittu or kharabhath. it can also be made with vermiceli, and the tastier versions come mixed with vegetables, cashewnuts and more yum.

Antoinette Ego said...

Thanks for this extra detail, BJ. I am enjoying this deep dive into Indian breakfasts.