So, what's a Hindu "breakfast"?
It is not uncommon for Indians to get asked "So...what do you guys eat for breakfast in India?" The answer is not so straightforward because India has a diversity platter on almost everything. Only those who know about Indian culture really understand that there is no such thing as homogenous Indian food - be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. But there are some principles that make Indian cuisine unique, especially the so called 'Indian breakfast".
BY: Rām Lingam
During my early years of work in New Zealand, I had to stay overnight at a hotel. In the morning I met my colleagues at breakfast and it was a continental breakfast menu. Knowing that I had recently arrived from India, a colleague at my table asked what I used to eat for breakfast in India. Buttering a piece of toast, I responded, ''nothing of what we see in today's breakfast menu'. This stunned the guys at the table, as they were innocently unaware of the Indian diversity. The local awareness was Butter chicken, Naan and Papaddom for Indian food. That was it. In my native nostalgia I got excited to share about idlis, dosas, poha etc but I really struggled to explain them. The response I got was blank looks. I thought 'never mind'...it's nobody's fault...that's the way we all are...living in our own worlds.
No such thing as 'breakfast' in India...
But yes, it is quite a wonder - this 'breakfast' menu in India. In fact, from ancient times, there has been no such thing as 'break-fast' in India. No such concept existed because the average Indian doesn't think that by consuming food in the morning he/she is "breaking the fasting period" of the previous night, as the term 'breakfast' suggests.
There is 'Naashta' that is eaten in the Indian household including the ones who live overseas and like many things Indian; the 'naashta' echoes the diversity of the country. In fact, the Indian Naashta varies quite a bit from region to region be it from Kutch in the West to Kolkatta in the East; Srinagar in the North to Suchindram in the South. Normally naashta is based on wheat or rice with vegetables as the accompaniment.
However, when you step out of India or even in urban India today, the naashta is increasingly influenced by what I call as 'commercial breakfast'. The urban Indians and the ones living overseas simply follow the crowd by consuming convenient foods, supermarket dependent where boxed cereals, cold reconstituted fruit juice or coffee-in-a-hurry is the norm.
The variety in Indian breakfast...
The authentic Indian breakfast is made from ingredients that are available regionally and even seasonally. The naashta is always fresh and cooked (made from scratch) - be it Idlis, Pongal, Vada, Dosa, Upama etc in the South, or stuffed paratha in the North. In central states like Maharashtra, Potato Poha, Upma, or Shira is the ultimate and tasty breakfast. Gujarati breakfast items are the famous haandvo, dhokla, sev-khamni, theplas, bhaakhri etc. Masala tea is quite common or even filter coffeee if you are from south. Children are always given milk, sometimes with powdered almonds, cardomam, cinnamon and/or saffron.
You are what you digest...
The traditional breakfast has a strong Hindu influence. To be precise it is based on principles mentioned in that part of the Vedic literature that deals with 'Ayuh'...life. There are some cardinal rules in Indian breakfast. Here they are: Authentic Indian breakfast is freshly cooked (cooked from scratch), almost always vegetarian, served warm, generally savory, spiced moderately and in small portions. There is a reason for this model and the credit goes to good old Ayurveda - the science of healthy life. Ayurveda is a 'Upa-Veda' meaning a branch of the Vedic knowledge that deals with medicine and lifestyle. There is no such thing as an ideal homogenous Indian breakfast as the authentic Indian food is highly individualized based on Ayurveda.
Ayurveda says that eating and digestion sustains life. Without food input body cannot get the right energy to survive. Ayurveda emphatically says, “YOU ARE WHAT YOU DIGEST AND NOT WHAT YOU EAT”. So basically Ayurveda says - what's the point of eating wonderfully nutritious food when you can't digest it properly and absorb the nourishment.