Something light: Redefining North Indian breakfast menu

Come to think of it, breakfast options in the region are limited to paranthas and pooris. However, essentially mid-morning dishes, these are never perfect for an early breakfast. A little playing around with local ingredients can offer various choices though

Something light: Redefining North Indian breakfast menu

Photo by the writer

Vibha Sharma

If you are one of those early risers who want to partake of a “light” slice of North India for breakfast, chances are you will be left disappointed. Venture out into the market and there is a high probability that you will mostly be greeted by fried stuff — either chhole-bhature or pooris of various kinds with chhole or aloo; stuffed paranthas are the only other item easily available on the breakfast table. However, since these delicacies are a little too heavy on the stomach, we would rather call them brunch options. This means there is almost nothing to satiate one’s hunger if one is looking out to do so before mid-morning.

Now, contrast this with the buzzing activity on South Indian streets in the wee hours of the day, when the aroma of curry leaves and filter coffee emanates from every crevice and corner. It seems southern states have aced their food game when it comes to offering stomach-friendly options early in the morning. And wayside eateries called darshinis deserve a big credit for being a game changer in the breakfast scene in these states. These are self-service restaurants that usually offer no or very limited seating facility. This helps in making the menu affordable, while cutting down on the expenditure on salaries of serving staff, furniture, etc. All darshinis follow the pay-first-eat-later model and their main focus is to serve quick, tasty and efficiently produced local food at reasonable rates.

Coming back to North India, even in our homes, the usual breakfast options are paranthas, punctuated at times with pooris. This makes one wonder how and when did these items become such a significant part of our morning meal?

According to food historian Pushpesh Pant, paranthas came to India with the Mughals. “The concept of breakfast was never there in India. There was just ‘do joon ki roti’, two square meals a day. And the early morning meal would be leftover roti from dinner the day before,” says Pant, whose next book, to be published by Niyogi Books, is on breakfasts in India.

Agriculture has always been the mainstay in Punjab and its neighbouring states and the cuisine here has always been greatly influenced by the farming community. Pant say those heading out into the fields to work wouldn’t have bothered to cook a fancy breakfast. “Lunch would be brought to the fields by women from home, which was theme of a beautiful film (‘Uski Roti’) by Mani Kaul,” he says.

However, as paranthas became part of life, very logically, almost all seasonal vegetables began to find easy entry as stuffing. Same is true for pulses too. A permanent part of dinner here, leftover dal found, and continues to find, perfect refuge in the paranthas the following morning.

These high-calorie mid-morning meal options are, and have been, perfectly suitable for labour-intensive farming work. With time, as a section of natives is moving away from farming, food requirements are undergoing a change too. Isn’t it time to bring in some lighter-on-stomach breakfast options to match equally light physical work?

Weighing in on lighter options

Rolls: Mothers have always handed over rolled paranthas to kids rushing to school. These rolls could be made from moong dal, besan, sooji or oats. Serve with chutney.

Namkeen dalia: With lots of seasonal vegetables and nuts for crunch; served with mint chutney.

Missi roti or daal wala parantha: Make them paper thin and soft and top them with Punjabi mango pickle masala. Unlike their parantha incarnations, these are much lighter and can be enjoyed a while after they have been cooked.

Buns: Punjabi tadka paneer bhurji insoft buns.

Variety of chaats with various boiled legumes: Chickpeas, black grams, kidney beans, black eyed beans, soyabeans, there are options galore. Tamarind chutney and mint chutney add a sweet and sour taste and freshly chopped onions, tomatoes and coriander leave a feel of freshness.

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