A Small Step Against Breakfast Ethnocentrism

by Dan on March 6, 2012 · 0 comments

in blogEATS

I have traveled a little, not a lot, but based on what I have seen no one beats Americans when it comes to a willingness to explore and enjoy cuisines other than their own. I would venture to say that in the U.S. there’s a higher ratio of restaurants devoted to offshore foods than ones devoted to local foods than there is in any other country in the world. (Let me know if I am wrong.) Part of this is illusion, for much of what we eat when we go out for Italian, Chinese, Indian, or Mexican—or Ethiopian or Laotian for that matter—in fact is U.S. immigrant food, made by people who have been here for generations in some cases. It’s not really fair to call it a cuisine other than our own. Nonetheless, we call all these foods “ethnic,” and we take pride in our appreciation for them.

One of the curious things about our love for ethnic food is that it rarely takes hold of us before noon. Right up until 11:59, most of us are ethnocentric eaters, cozily ensconced in the Anglo-American food tradition, with the occasional French pastry thrown in for variety. I’d love to go out for a Thai breakfast or a Peruvian brunch, but I can’t: Ethnic restaurants are basically never open for breakfast. In my line of work, cookbook editing, no one devotes more than a few pages of an “ethnic” cookbook to breakfast dishes. And I’m still waiting for the day the International House of Pancakes serves up something international.

As a baby step toward correcting this bias, I turn to a talented young woman from Chicago, Susan Pachikara, whose fascinating blog is called Cardamom Kitchen. Susan is a first generation South Indian with an expertise in the foods of Kerala, a state that hugs the southwest coast of India. She’s writing a cookbook for the iPad about Keralan home cooking. She teaches cooking classes at Whole Foods stores and writes with the gentle voice of an expert instructor. The food on Susan’s blog comes from a variety of traditions that interest her, but there is a substantial representation of South Indian cooking.

Uppamavu is the intriguing name of a Keralan breakfast dish that Susan learned from her mother and wrote a post about recently. You can think of it as a semolina or Cream of Wheat curry. I like the idea of serving it with a fried egg on top, but banana slices might suit your taste better.


This is one of my favorite South Indian breakfast dishes. Imagine a moist, robustly seasoned couscous dish. Traditionally, each serving is topped with banana slices or a fried egg.

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 cups semolina or 2 1/2 minute Cream of Wheat
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/3 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons skinned and split urad dhal
  • 1 cup finely diced onions
  • Half a small jalapeno, seeded and quartered
  • 3/4 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 20 curry leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups of water


  1. Put the semolina or Cream of Wheat in a skillet over medium-low heat. Dry roast, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking. Remove from heat when it becomes a shade darker, about 10 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. Cook until they begin to pop. Add the urad dhal and cook until it becomes honey brown.
  3. Add the onions, jalapeno, ginger, and curry leaves. Cook until the onions become totally translucent. (This is a very important step as the texture of the onions should be imperceptible in the final dish.) Add the water and salt and stir. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat. Slowly pour in the semolina, stirring constantly. (It will spit and sputter.) Cover and set aside for at least 5 minutes to allow the semolina to soften completely.
  5. Serve with bananas or top each serving with a fried egg. Uppamavu can also be eaten with small side of hot pickle.

                                                                                          Recipe and photo used by permission of Susan Pachikara

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