For the six years that I lived in London my late nights and blurry mornings (work and partying induced) left no room for a decent breakfast. Sunday mornings in my student days at Goldsmiths were spent in the greasy spoons of New Cross like the New Cross Cafe or Tan’s Cafe. They were greasy in food and scruffy in appearance with the riff-raff of the streets off the streets spending their previous nights’ collections on the one meal they’d be able to afford. The “Full English” is a proven hangover cure: 2 eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread, baked beans and a hot tea to settle it all. The hash browns are extra. At 2 pounds 50 p (2002 prices) it kept you going through the nausea, the headaches and the dreadful drought in ones throat. Indian students feel very much at home in New Cross – there is garbage on the streets, poor people sleeping on the corner, it’s like a dreary version of India! But how I yearned for a hot crispy dosai or a sambhar- vadai…
The Full English
I thought things would improve when I finally got my own place in Tooting and then in Streatham. But I was wrong. If I made it to work on time I’d stop by at the Court Cafe run by an Italian family opposite Southwark’s Inner London Sessions Courts. A doddering old Italian grandpa, a terrible womaniser, would man the front counter and serve me up the infamous British contribution to breakfast menus, “bacon butty” or “bacon and egg sandwich”. I always ordered a coffee, to which nearly every morning for 4 years he would say, “Sugar? No! You don’t need sugar, you are too sweet already.” I bet he said the same thing to the next woman who came in.Like I said, terrible womaniser. Is it sad to admit that on some days the surety that this old man would hit on me in the most pathetic of ways was deeply comforting? Yes, probably is sad.
Heading out of London on fieldwork I would always be tempted by the hot dense Cornish pasties and the flaky cheesy bacon croissants from Delice de France at Kings Cross station. Breakfasts weren’t all unhealthy – I would occasionally go on one of those Special K diets (2 bowls, 2 meals for 2 weeks).It turned out to be a completely warped way to eat.
It’s quite evident that my British breakfast experiences were far from varied, nutritious or exciting. I had always pined for the day I would be able to serve up hot fluffy idlis, crispy dosais, upma, bread upma, uttapam, rava dosai, semiya, pongal, coconut chutney, sambar and other South Indian delicacies for breakfast in my own house. That dream seemed further and further away and for most of my time in London I kept this urge under wraps…from myself. But that was until I met my husband on a trip back to India and we joined forces to start a family together. And here we are finally living that very dream of fluffy idlis drowning in steamy sambar. Life need only be simple.
Idli, sambar and an egg
Idli/sambar is the best way to start your day – it’s steamed not fried, with lentils to accompany it, good protein. No wonder Indians are so good at doing your taxes. If you can’t make idlis at home try the Murugan Idli shop
that’s popping up all over small town India. They’ve opened one in Vizag in Ram Nagar near Jail Road and it is always packed.
There are plenty of supermarkets and local shops that sell you idli or dosai batter but I live far away from any such progress. I actually take great wifely pride in producing these South Indian breakfast delights but I am not going to lie – this is a blog after all. I am not oh so traditional that I have my maid whip up the idli batter! Believe it or not but the idlis we have come from a packet. The only brand you should try (believe me I’ve done my market research) is Double Horse. This is a full on endorsement for Double Horse, I should buy shares in the company I am such a loyal customer and brand advocate.
The stuff is miraculous – you take a cup of Double Horse idli mix, a soft white powder like sand, with a cup and a quarter of water and whizz up in the blender for exactly one minute. Leave it to ferment in an airtight container for 6 hours or overnight, in a warm place. Then you just steam in an idli steamer for around 5 minutes or until done. This might seem sacrilegious to some of you but the end product is an idli as light as a cloud. If you make a Sambhar or chutney the night before then you only spend 5 minutes of your morning preparing this breakfast of champions. My husband’s Malyali genes expect a sunny side up mutta (egg) to accompany the South Indian breakfast menu.
In the world of instant packet breakfasts I have done plenty of experimentation. There are a number of brands to choose from but for idlis I recommend only Double Horse. If Rava dosai is your morning pick me up I suggest using Sri Krishna’s mix as it requires you to only add water and is much crispier unlike MTR’s powder to which you need to add curds/yoghurt and the result is not as light. For vada it has to be MTR and for regular dosais again Double Horse is my brand of choice. But for appams there’s nothing like making it on your own. Nothing else will give you the perforated, sieve like edges. Sadly I’ve run out of Sri Krishna’s mix as you can’t get it in Vizag but my thoughtful father has sent some in the post from Tamil Nadu.
Instant breakfast mixes
To my dear Indian friends who have decided to live their lives in the First World, I hope you have not spontaneously combusted with envy. So forget the coffee on the run and bagel in a bag, I’m happy to ship you some Double Horse to make your mornings sing. Don’t fight it.