Traditional Indian breakfast… what does it even mean? India is one country, and yet almost every household residing in its vast area of 3.287 million km² has a different breakfast on its breakfast table.
So let’s start this journey into our exploration of what the term ‘traditional Indian breakfast’ means. While it is virtually impossible to track down all breakfast recipes of India, we have compiled some lynchpin breakfast dishes which are a representative of its region. So let’s start this journey and see how India starts its day. We’ll begin with Traditional Indian breakfast dishes from Northern, Western and Central Indian states in the first part of this series.
Traditional Indian breakfast from Northern, Western and Central India:
1. Jammu and Kashmir
Breakfast in the cold regions of Kashmir consists of a special hot, warming tea and bread. The tea could be noon chai, which is a salty milk tea in which green tea leaves are brewed with baking powder. The baking powder reacts with the tea and gives noon chai its characteristic pink color. Another special tea of Kashmir is the kahwa tea. This delicate and light brew of green tea, aromatic spices, saffron and nuts is like experiencing Kashmir in a cup!
Along with tea, various breads like girda, bakarkhani or sesame-sprinkled doughnut-shaped chochwor also form part of Traditional Indian breakfast of Kashmir. Butter and jam along with the bread is optional and up to individual taste.
The cuisine of Jammu is very different from that of Kashmir. The food is closer to Punjabi cuisine but shares some characteristics with the cuisine of Kashmir. Breakfast in Jammu is usually paratha with vegetable sabji. In winters, the use of greens or saag is predominant.
Ladakh is a cold desert which is cold like Kashmir, but is also much are arid. Its breakfast is also designed to combat these extremes in climate.
The most popular breakfast in Ladakh is butter tea with khambir and chulli.
The primary provider of milk in Ladakh is yak, thus, butter tea is a unique tea made of yak milk. However, the butter stands apart the most in its use of freshly churned butter which is brewed along with the tea. The butter provides the locals energy to combat their harsh atmosphere, as well as protect them from extreme dryness. Salt is also added to butter tea, also known as Po Cha.
The bread counterpart of tea in Ladakh is the khambir. Khambir is a thick-crusted bread made of whole wheat. It can be eaten with vegetables or eggs. A sweeter option is having khambir with butter and the special jam of Ladakh called chulli jam. Chulli is the local name of Ladakh’s famous apricots- a GI product of the region. Here’s the recipe for making Khambir.
3. Himachal Pradesh
Spiti and Lahaul: Cold Desert of Himachal
Aktori is a healthy and Traditional Indian breakfast from the cold desert of Lahaul and Spiti of North Himachal Pradesh. It is essentially a cake or pancake made of buckwheat flour and wheat flour mixed with sugar and milk. This dish is enjoyed as breakfast with ghee or honey. Here’s the recipe for making aktori.
Siddu or Siddku is a popular breakfast in the temperate regions of Himachal, including Kullu, Mandi and Shimla. This is a half-moon shaped leavened bread stuffed typically with a mixture of green peas, green chillies and groundnuts. It is enjoyed with ghee and bhaang chutney in the cold mornings of the hills. Here’s the recipe for making siddu.
The traditional Indian breakfast of Uttaranchal is heavy of vegetarian protein sources like lentils. It is hence no surprise then that gahat ke parathe (parathe stuffed with a brown lentil called gahat or horsegram) is a popular breakfast in the state. It is a simple and healthy Indian breakfast with its use of whole wheat and mandua (~ragi) flour and simple spices of ajwain and chilli. Here’s the recipe for the making this dish.
Punjab is famous for its hearty breakfast of stuffed parathas with curd or fresh white butter. The stuffing can be of potatoes, onion, paneer, or seasonal vegetables like radish and cauliflower. Here’s the recipe of Punjabi aloo ka paratha.
Another popular breakfast is the very famous Amritsari chhola bhatura which consists of a spicy chola gravy with a crispy yet spongy bhatura bread. Both dishes are usually accompanied with thick sweet or salty lassi.
Haryana is known as the ‘land of roti’ due to the use of multiple types of flours here to make flatbreads. Being a cattle-rich state, milk also plays a big part in the food in the form of cream, butter and curd-based products. Hence one of the most popular breakfasts is tikkar roti with freshly churned white butter and adchala drink. Tikkar roti is made with a mix of whole wheat flour and corn flour / makki ka atta. It can be as simple as a mix of the flours with salt and red chilli powder, or additional spices with vegetables like onion can be added to it. Here’s the recipe for tikkar roti.
Rajasthani cuisine has a lot of spicy and fried dishes, balanced with sweet dishes as well. This is true for its traditional Indian breakfast also, which has given rise to a number of micro-regional breakfast specialties.
Mirchi vada is a traditional Indian breakfast specialty of Rajasthan, where special large chillies with a lot of flavour and less heat (like the Bhavnagari chilli ) is stuffed with a delicious mashed potato mix. This is then coated with a besan batter and deep fried. Here’s the recipe of this specialty from the arid lands of Jodhpur.
Makhaniya lassi is a deliciously creamy and sweet drink from Rajasthan which often accompanies the spicy breakfast main dishes. Made of curd, fresh cream and mishri, it cools the body down and gives the local residents a much needed boost of energy in the morning. Here’s the recipe for makhaniya lassi.
Anybody who has been to Jaipur and tried the pyaaz kachori from the shops near the bus stand would never be able to forget the succulent deliciousness of the dish. This fried goodness is a popular breakfast dish in the region and consists of a kachori filled with a spicy filling of caramelised onions. Here’s the recipe for Rajasthani pyaaz kachori.
Kadhi kachori is a unique breakfast from Ajmer where crispy kachoris with a spiced stuffing of dal are dipped in a curd-based kadhi gravy with typically Rajasthani spices. Here’s the recipe if you want to try out this unique Rajasthani breakfast.
Gujarati cuisine contains a lot of healthy traditional Indian breakfast options due to the use of steaming as a predominant technique in the cuisine. Some well-known dishes are the famous yellow khaman dhokla, the white dhokla called idra made of rice and urad dal, the cripsy flatbread called khakhra, the crispy fafda and jalebi, and the thicker lentil vegetable cake called handvo.
Let’s take a look at this lesser-known Gujarati breakfast dish with an amusing story behind it:
Locho in Gujarati means a mistake. Surti locho also has a fun story behind it, since it was mistakenly created by a chef who made his khaman dhokla batter too watery. When he steamed the mixture, the resultant dish turned out to be soft and mushy! In order to hide his mistake, he covered it with crunchy sev, onions, spicy chutney and spices. Lo and behold, this turned into the iconic Surat breakfast called Surti locho with delicious flavours and a plethora of textures. Here’s your recipe for making this unique mistake.. uh.. dish!
Kutch Region of Gujarat
Kutch is a very unique ecosystem in India consisting of salt marsh areas. The traditional Indian breakfast in this unique region consists of fafda and jalebi, aloo shaak and poori (potato curry and poori) and the very special Kutchi Dabeli.
Kutchi dabeli consists of a mix of potato mash with a special dabeli masala, further enriched by a sweet and tangy tamarind and date chutney and a spicy garlic chilli chutney. Numerous additions like sev, peanuts and pomegranate result in a virtual melody of beautiful textures and tastes. Here’s how to make Kutchi dabeli.
The small state of Goa has a variety of interesting traditional Indian breakfast dishes. The first of these is an egg dish called ros omelette. Ras omelette is an omelette served in a spicy tomato gravy with coconut paste. The whole dish is served with Pav bread and onions.
Kailoreo or methi che polle is a beautiful thick rice pancake sweetened with jaggery. It can be leavened with toddy, as well as yeast. It is usually served with a gravy on the side for breakfast, or a dollop of ghee or butter.
A lot of healthy breakfasts include the use of breads, especially the famous ladi pav of Maharashtra. These include the misal pav, where pav is served with a delicious curry of moth lentil topped with crispy farsan for both taste and texture, as well as the usal pav where the same concept is used using white peas. Aside from pav, a flatbread called thalipeeth is also served as breakfast. In the coastal Konkan Maharashtra, neer dosa and rice flour crepes called ghavan are also served with chutney.
Maharashtra also has a culture of food entrepreneurs who have developed breakfast recipes especially for the working professionals. These breakfasts include the most famous breakfast of Maharashtra, the vada pav, which was invented by Ashok Vaidya outside Dadra station. He sold pav and omelette as well as potato vadas on the side. One day he put a vada inside a pav and slathered chutneys on it, and lo and behold, Maharashtra’s favourite breakfast was born! Other streetfood-cum-breakfast dishes include pav bhaji which is a delicious potato slurry with pav, and vegetable fritters like kanda (onion) bhajji and batata (potato) bhajji.
11. Madhya Pradesh
Indore in west Madhya Pradesh is famous for its breakfast. Poha, jalebi, kachori and samosa are called the four pillar of Indori breakfast.
In the eastern part of Madhya Pradesh, in cities like Rewa, the rustic haath ki roti with aloo baingan bharta is a popular breakfast. Haath ki roti can be made of wheat flour, rice flour or besan, but the morning one is usually made of whole wheat flour.
12. Uttar Pradesh
Breakfast in Uttar Pradesh, one of the largest states in India varies widely with the various regions of the state. They range from breakfasts as simple as haath ki roti with fresh white butter, green mint chutney and lassi, to richer breakfasts containing a trio of a fried main dish, a sweet accompaniment and a milk-based beverage. This can be a combination of samosa or kachori and jalebi from the western Braj region of Mathura-Vrindawan, the crispy urad dal-stuffed Bedmi poori with aloo gravy and jalebi of Agra, or kachori-sabji, jalebi and dahi of Varanasi.
That’s it for this article… boggled with the variety of breakfasts in India till now? Wait till we see the rest of India next. Coming up soon: breakfasts from East, North-East and South India in Part 2 of Traditional Indian Breakfasts | How Does India Start Its Day?
Special Thanks To Our Contributors:
The information for this article has been crowdsourced. Special thanks to Md. Touqeer, Virender Singh, Tripuresh Shahi, Arun Vairagi, Praveen Kumar, Prakash Shukla Alakh, Kranti J Borse, Rasika Durge, Pradeep Kumar, Devika, Raghav Raj, Akansha Choudhary for their inputs!