Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sweating from the Heat of the Bamboo Pickle

It has been more than a year since we heard from FoodCrunch buddy Adam Grosser on these pages. This time Adam is in India reporting on the most important meal of the equatorial day. My regular postings will return soon with dispatches on the politics of eating at my house and the perfect Manhattan. Talk with you soon.

For the business travelers among us, the stultifying routine of waking up in a distant hotel, on some one else's clock, and choosing between the standard array of disappointingly prepared western breakfast choices – American Breakfast, Continental breakfast, and the newly invented but no less grim Fitness Breakfast - can only reinforce that you’d rather be home with some cherry scones in the oven. If you’re really lucky, a high-end hotel will offer a Japanese breakfast, which, while usually wildly over-priced, offers some welcome diversity, or at the very least a box of Total.

Enter the lucky visitor to India. I, know, it’s really far away. Especially from California. But, turns out, it’s worth the trip just for breakfast. I started my first day with Akuri eggs, a dish common to the Parsi region of Western India. The eggs are scrambled with red chilies, ginger, turmeric, tomatoes, and freshly milled cumin. They are served with mango chutney, and a griddled paratha (whole wheat flatbread) to scoop it all up. The eggs are cooked in ghee (clarified butter), so they have a light, fluffy consistency, and the fresh spices are in full song. The chilies are bright, but not overwhelming and the resultant mélange turned out to be the ultimate breakfast burrito sans pico de gallo. My traveling companions thought I was nuts.

The next morning, I ventured further afield and had a Dosa – a staple from Southern India. Dosas are a thin – perhaps 1.5mm thin - crispy slightly tart pancake made from a batter of fermented rice. They are typically cooked only on one side, which forms their famous crust. You can order dosas filled, buttered, or plain. I had the Masala Dosa, which consists of the aforementioned giant pancake folded in half, with a dollop of soft potato and lentil curry in the middle. The curry was rich with ginger, mustard seed, and coriander. Words do not begin to do the flavors justice. It was perfect. When I had the first bite, I couldn’t speak for at least a minute. My traveling companions thought I had graduated from nuts to bananas.

The last morning I realized I needed to try everything on the breakfast menu I hadn’t yet ingested. I had no idea what some of the dishes were, but given my early triumphs, I was boldly optimistic. I ordered the tomato Upma, the Vada Sambhar, and another Masala Dosa in case I didn’t like my first two choices. The Upma is made from a semolina batter that’s prepared similarly to soft polenta. Compared to the other foods I’d had, it was more lightly spiced, but that only allowed the freshness of the tomatoes, onions, and coconut to shine through. The Vada is a savory donut made with lentil flour and spinach, served with a thin spicy curry for dipping. It was a more substantial breakfast – the Indian equivalent of bacon and eggs. All of these dishes were served with mint chutney and a large bowl of pomegranate seeds. By this time, my traveling companions had not only decided I’d gone completely native, but went so far as to suggest that perhaps I should eat at my own table. Sweating from the heat of the bamboo pickle, but thoroughly content, I managed to ignore their feeble attempts at conversation.


Blogger SusanBratton said...

You are nearly speaking naughty talk to me with this wonderful post. Indian food is my favorite cuisine and I would thrill at the idea of starting my day with Akuri eggs.
Please post more of your food adventures in India so we can salivate vicariously.

9:27 PM  
Blogger tom888alex said...

Every region of India has its own BF items. Kerala has Appams. A friend of mine gave up his green card and went back to India just for BFs.

10:11 AM  

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