A lot of South Indian breakfasts revolve around the theme of fermented batter – steamed or fried into some tasty breakfast bites and served with a healthy side of coconut chutney.
Idlis in Chennai
The first stop was the chai stall for a freshly made masala tea. Sweet and gingery, this little glass of caramel coloured liquid kickstarted the day and whetted my appetite for a breakfast of idlis.
As someone who is more accustomed to starting the day with porridge or eggs the idea of deep fried food for breakfast is not my ideal situation, finding an alternative can sometimes be a challenge in India. However, this is where soft, fluffy idlis hit the spot and why they became one of my go-to breakfasts in South India.
Idlis are made from urad dal, idly rice, fenugreek and salt, which are all mixed together to create a batter. The batter is left to ferment for around 8-12 hours before being steamed in a special idly steamer. After a few minutes in the steamer, the spongy, fermented savoury cakes are ready to be served up with sides of sambar (a thin lentil and vegetable sauce) and fragrant coconut chutney.
Sagu dosa in Mysore
I’d read about a place that was said to make delicious dosas in Mysore and so after an early morning visit to the fascinating Devaraja Market we headed off in search of dosa heaven.
Dosa is made from the same kind of fermented batter used for idlis, but is fried, pancake style. Some dosas are thick and fluffy whereas others, like paper dosas, are impossibly large and crispy.
I didn’t have particularly high hopes about the dosa place, sometimes you get a food tip from somewhere and end up getting seriously let down. Also, dosas are ten a penny in southern India – how much better could this one really be?
We arrived at the postage-stamp sized eatery and managed to nab one of the restaurant’s only six tables as someone else was just leaving. There is only one thing on the menu, so that saved on the awkwardness of asking if they have an English menu, speak English etc. Instead two trays appeared in front of us, each holding an unassuming looking dosa with a blob of ghee on top and a splattering of coconut chutney alongside.
But this was not just any ordinary dosa. After a few mouthfuls it became clear that this was the dosa.
Wrapped up within the dosa was a rich coconut vegetable curry, and this combined with the fermented batter and ginger spiked coconut chutney made for an irresistible mouthful. In fact, I must confess that it was so good that we ate three…each.