“What can I do, Madam, to make you happy?” asked the young and very charming female chef our first night at the Oberoi Amarvilas (“Eternal Villas”) in Agra. I had told our waiter a moment ago that I had not enjoyed the chicken curry he had recommended. Before I could say much of anything, dessert was going to be complimentary and she was going to prepare a special “Indian breakfast” just for me. Hmm … I’m a bit fussy about my breakfast, and as I was pondering the next morning whether I should just play it safe and take a traditional “western” breakfast from the buffet, there she was with her charming smile telling me that my specially prepared breakfast would be brought to me shortly.
The food was delivered by the waiter with a flourish, but Ankita Sood, the Chef, was not far behind. She told me she had prepared a traditional “Southern Indian” vegetarian breakfast and began to explain each item. When I realized that I would never remember all those strange-sounding names, I asked her if she would email them to me – which she did right after departing from the table. But first, the charming Ankita posed with me for a photo along with the food she had so expertly and caringly prepared.
In the photo above of the platter with 4 items, a going clockwise from 3 o’clock is “Vada” (a deep fried dumpling of rice and lentils), “Poha” (flattened rice with peanuts and curry leaf), Idli” (steamed rice dumpling), and “Upma” (semolina and vegetable pudding). While I enjoyed each one of these unique dishes, my favorite was the Poha followed by the Vada, the Upma – which reminded me a bit of oatmeal –, and the Idli, which clearly needed some condiments to spice it up. The accoutrements included “Sambhar”, a lentil stew with vegetables, “Gunpowder”, a condiment made with broiled spices and lentils served with clarified butter, and some rather spicy chutneys. I loved the Sambhar and used it to flavor the Idli and the Upma. The Gunpowder was aptly named – a bit too fiery for me first thing in the morning, and the chutneys I enjoyed in moderation with the Vada.
When I had finished my South Indian tasting breakfast, I reflected upon the experience. The bad taste from the chicken curry the night before was erased, magically replaced by the visual, aromatic and culinary appeal of what can only be described as the most unusual and interesting breakfast I have ever eaten. Would I eat it again? With pleasure!
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