A light breakfast was not something I managed to find in Northern India; here things tend to be hot, heavy and deep fried.
Pooris are ubiquitous in Northern India. They’re like the workhorse of Indian breakfasts: cheap, reliable and fill you up until lunchtime. Sadly the quality can be quite hit and miss, and because they’re deep fried they sometimes arrive undrained and dripping in grease. But occasionally, I’d come across a proudly puffed up – crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside – poori and wonder why I hadn’t eaten them more often
Made from wheat flour, Pooris are un-leavened, fried flat breads. The dough is split into small portions, lightly oiled and rolled out into side-plate sized discs. These are tossed into a kadai (an Indian cooking pot) filled with bubbling oil and puff up into light, flaky, breads. A subji (vegetable curry) accompanies the pooris, often aloo bhaji (potato and onion curry), which is studded with the warming flavours of ginger, turmeric and mustard seeds.
The most satisfying thing to do is poke a hole in the poori’s blistered outer shell and watch as it breathes out hot steam and slowly deflates.
Once it’s cool enough to handle the next step is to pull off a piece of the (hopefully, fluffy) poori and use it like a miniature shovel to scoop up the subji. When done well the texture and flavour of poori bhaji is comforting and filling.
Tell tale signs of someone who’s eaten pooris for breakfast: yellow fingertips, from the turmeric-laden subji.
Stalls frying up batches of crispy hot pooris are on streets all over North India, just don’t look too closely at the big pot of oil they’re cooking them in…it might put you off your breakfast.
Dal pakwan in Jaisalmer
After an early start to visit Gadsisar Lake without the crowds, rumblings of hunger led us to search the dusty streets of Jaisalmer for breakfast. Strolling in the opposite direction of the city’s imposing fort, we reached a roundabout full of men waiting to be transported somewhere, the fields maybe?
There were no food shops in sight but we passed a few stalls selling what looked like giant papads or papadums. Intrigued, we watched to see what became of the edible discs before deciding that this would indeed be today’s breakfast.
Dal Pakwan (the giant papad’s real name) is a rigid, deep-fried flatbread, made from maida flour. The pakwan (flatbread) is accompanied by dal, in case you hadn’t already guessed that bit from the name. The dish is traditionally eaten on Sundays and holidays and originated in Sindh Province, which is in present day Pakistan – not too far away from Jaisalmer.
The ingenious thing about dal pakwan is that your meal is both your meal and your plate. The vendor decorated the sturdy pakwan plate with a base of bright yellow dal and sprinkled chilli sauce, spring onions, tomatoes and coriander on top.
It’s a crunchy, flavour-filled breakfast that also happens to look pretty.
But eating dal pakwan at a street stall requires a strategy, because your plate is edible and when you eat the plate there’s nothing to hold the dal anymore. As you get closer and closer to the middle one false snap of the crunchy pakwan could bring your whole breakfast crashing down. Breakfast has never been so risky.