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Breakfast in India

7 Nov



Poha and parathas for breakfast at Denwa Backwater Escape, Satpura, Madhya Pradesh.

By Patric Baird

Visitors will notice that they do a lot of things very differently in India. Although the art, music, dancing and architecture are very diverse across the states of the enormous country, everything still somehow manages to remain uniquely Indian.  And the same goes for the food.  Wherever you go, you’ll get ‘curry’.  That’s if you’re a Westerner, of course, as the term curry is pretty much meaningless in India, having been invented during the British Raj as a catch-all term for any dish containing a meat or vegetable cooked in a spiced gravy.  Each region has its own style of cooking, from the milder, coconut and fish-based dishes of Kerala in the far south, to the fiery vindaloos of Goa and the rich, dairy-heavy food of Northern India.  Rice and local flatbreads always appear no matter where you are, particularly at breakfast time.  Again, each region has its favourites with a stand-out example being Southern India’s dosa, a kind of fermented pancake made from rice batter and lentils, usually stuffed with a turmeric-infused potato curry and served with coconut and tomato chutneys.  Other south Indian breakfast specialities include medu vada, small doughnut-shaped savoury fritters, idli which is a steamed cake made from fermented rice and lentils, aloo bonda, potato-stuffed fried dumplings, and upma which is a kind of  porridge usually made from semolina flour.  On a recent trip to Madhya Pradesh, the rice dish poha inevitably made an appearance at breakfast, and it’s one of the things I’ll miss most about my visit to MP.  At first sight, it’s yellow rice with bits in but, on closer inspection, it’s more complex than that.  The rice is actually flattened rice, which has had the husk removed and beaten flat into flakes.  The yellow colour comes from turmeric and other ingredients include fried potato, curry leaves, mustard seeds, peanuts, onions and chillis.  It is delicious, especially when served with the ubiquitous paratha, a flaky, fried flatbread.  It may not sound like the world’s most exciting breakfast, but I’ll take it over toast and cornflakes any day of the week, especially when served with a milky, spicy masala coffee.


Masala dosa breakfast with all the trimmings in Kerala.



10 Feb


By Patric Baird

We live in lactose-intolerant times and producing viable alternatives to milk is big business, with almond, oat, soya and rice milks providing healthier equivalent to cow juice. Even if your gut is fine with the white stuff, who wants to pour a cocktail of pus, hormones and antibiotics on their Corn Flakes? Although not exactly famous for their vegan sensibilities, the Spanish have long been grinding up tiger nuts with water, sugar and cinnamon to produce horchata, the traditional form of a delicious beverage sold all over Spain and Latin America, although the Mexicans make their horchata with rice. Luckily for the nut-intolerant, these exotically named tiger nuts – or chufas, as they are known in Spanish-speaking countries – aren’t nuts at all, but actually the tiny wrinkled tubers of a sedge grass plant (Cyperus esculentus) found throughout the Western Hemisphere as well as southern Europe, Africa, Madagascar, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. It’s well worth ditching the dairy for this healthy alternative – it’s rich in vitamins, as well as iron, potassium and other beneficial minerals, while low in sodium and saturated fat. My first experience of breakfasting on freshly pressed, chilled horchata and churros at a Valencian pavement cafe some years ago triggered an enduring affection for the drink and, while a simmering Spanish streetscape isn’t always available, I still enjoy the occasional cheeky horchata in the UK at London restaurant chain Wahaca, or can have bottles delivered by the Tapas Lunch Company.

Oi, Oi, Saveloy!

3 Dec

By Patric Baird

Everywhere in the world has a local sausage and, as a seasoned traveller and something of a connoisseur of meat stuffed into a skin, I have made it my business to sample lap cheong in China, kielbasa in Krakow and boudin in Baton Rouge. But until quite recently, the snorker sitting right at the top of my wish list was something a lot less exotic – the good old British saveloy. You can’t get a saveloy in my native Belfast, but I knew of their existence through TV shows. I had spent a lifetime wondering what joys Terry McCann was experiencing after dropping into a traditional London chipper for a saveloy supper after dropping Arthur Daley off at the Winchester. And, of course, the saveloy’s role as a saucy double entendre in British comedy always raised a smile. So, within hours of my move to London, it was straight round to the local take-away for a taster. It was sausage heaven. I fondly recall that ‘Oi Oi Saveloy’ moment as I bit into the bright red skin which yielded with a satisfying crack, revealing the delicious spiced meat within. Not in the same league as the finest cut of outdoor-reared pork, you understand – the texture is more hot paste than tenderloin, but that says more about the saveloy’s origins as a savoury Swiss treat made from pig’s brains than anything else. The only down side is that there’s something about a saveloy which turns me into a cackling Sid James every time I have a big red sausage in my hand.

Veda Bread

16 Oct

By Patric Baird

Although it shouldn’t be confused with the similarly-named ancient Hindu scriptures, Veda bread nevertheless has many worshipful devotees. Reputedly invented by a Dundee farmer’s wife over a century ago, Veda was once popular across the UK but is now only generally available in Northern Ireland. A simple description is ‘a caramel-coloured malt loaf’, but then any fool can bake a malt loaf – and it won’t be a Veda. The original recipe is supposedly secret, only disclosed to Belfast bakeries Sunblest, Ormo and Irwin’s. When the latter launched ready-sliced Veda for the first time several years ago, this perceived violation of tradition made the local news. As a purist, I slice my own, thickly. It’s best toasted, slathered in butter and maybe with a wedge of cheddar cheese. It’s not unusual for Ulster folk visiting family overseas to fill a suitcase with Veda bread – that’s how good it is.

The Ulster Fry

31 Aug
A Classic Ulster Fry

A Classic Ulster Fry

By Patric Baird

As Northern Irish as Ian Paisley (and almost as divisive amongst its citizens), the Ulster Fry is a breakfast dish eagerly sought out by tourists although traditionally, this age-old combination of hot meat, bread, eggs and animal fat set up past generations of locals for a hard day in the fields or the shipyard. The ingredients of an Ulster Fry are immutable – English staples such as baked beans or tinned tomatoes have no place on the plate, while the addition of black and white pudding is still seen by some hardliners as Southern Irish interlopers. Add fried mushrooms if you must, but the essentials are no-frills pork sausages, a runny egg, smoked back bacon, a halved tomato, and, for that all-important authentic touch, soda bread and potato farls. All fried, not grilled – if you want a healthy breakfast, eat a grapefruit. The only decision you then have to make is whether to cover the whole thing in tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Bright’s Restaurant in Belfast’s city centre does one of the best in town and, conveniently for late risers, it is available all day.