One of the first things that Thane-based food consultant Saee Koranne Khandekar tells us is that her food is going to leave us disappointed. “Because they are so easy to make,” says Khandekar, in response to our quizzical looks.
She hops in and, in 45 minutes, out of the kitchen, having made the ragi-based Ambil, the upma-like Tandulachi Ukad and Amboli or rice, mixed lentils dosa. Served alongside mango chutney, peanut chutney and creamy soft white butter, these typical Maharastrian breakfast items taste delicious and are loaded with nutrients.
Which makes it a pity that they have almost disappeared from the diet of the average, train-hopping Mumbaikkar.
Breakfast is from Britain
Besides declaring the idli-sambhar-filter kaapi combo as the most nutritious of all Indian breakfasts, the recent India Breakfast Habits Study also noted that 79 per cent of those who were surveyed in Mumbai had breakfasts low in nutrition. Delhi and Kolkata followed at 76 and 75 per cent.
Interestingly, India never had the tradition of having a proper breakfast to begin with. The breakfast is one of the remnants of the British rule in India, explains food historian and author Salma Husain.
“The nawabs and the maharajas led very lavish lives where they would wake up at 10 or 11 in the morning, after their late night mehfils till three in the morning. And when they woke up, they feasted on puris, potatoes, parathas and kebabs,” explains Husain, who has written a book on Mughal cuisine, The Emperor’s Table.
In Lucknow, the average Joe had nimish, especially in winters. “Milk was kept in a bowl and then kept outside overnight. Dew would fall on this and the next morning, the froth that is collected at the top would be eaten with rotis.
But now with pollution, what dew can you get?” chuckles Husain.
Not only meals, but a range of nutritious ingredients are also on their way out. Vibha Varshney, who works for the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment and has more recently, co-authored the book First Foods, says that farmers in wetlands in the eastern side of the country no longer grow makhana or fox nuts, which is a more nutritious alternative to corn flakes. “These are very expensive and there is no market for it so people go in for corn flakes,” explains Varshney.
Memories of food
Sometime in the past, people in Calicut, Kerala, used to wake up to the smell of breads like puttu, idiappam, vella appam ari pathiri and other staple breakfast items like pori unda (puffed rice and jaggery), brain and liver fry, remembers 52-year-old Abida Rasheed, who is based in Calicut.
“Breakfasts used to be very important for us as we used to live in a joint family. We didn't have the custom of sending the daughter away after marriage, instead we had the son-in-law stay with us. Certain tharavads (ancestral homes) may still follow this custom of having an elaborate breakfast, but otherwise it has totally disappeared,” she explains.
To Kolkata-based advertising professional Kaniska Chakraborty, Sunday mornings meant having subtly spiced shingaras (a smaller version of the samosas) jeelipis or the chickpea dish, ghugni.
“The jeelipis are smaller and thicker than a normal jalebi. You could bite into them and they would yield – they are not as crispy as the jalebi. Both have been replaced by the samosa and jalebi,” adds Chakraborty, who also hosts a food show on the radio.
Delhi-based food blogger Sangeeta Khanna can think of at least three breakfast items that people simply don't make anymore. “Gond ke laddu with milk,” she rattles off. “This was a very healthy desi granola kind of breakfast which included a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, good fats and loads of minerals.
Dahi chiwda, another desi cereal breakfast, and besan ki pinni with milk which used to be a good energetic breakfast, full of good protiens, fats and some carbohydrates.