Chennai – The King of Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and there’s no argument about that. Your body has starved for nearly 10 hours and now you need to give it something substantial. When I say substantial I mean something nutritious and well-balanced. Dr. Malathi Sivaramkrishnan, research director from Nirmala Niketan College of Home Science conducted the study funded by multinational food manufacturing company Kellogg’s. The study was conducted in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Chennai with a sample size of 3,600 and studied their breakfast habits.


What we really care about the study is that Chennai won hands down in the battle for the most nutritious breakfast and the dish that took them to the top was the humble idli sambhar. Before you go ahead and deny the findings, try wrapping your mind around the science behind it all. “Kolkata’s traditional breakfast has excess maida which has a lot of carbohydrates, very little protein and no fibre at all. Delhi’s parathas are too oily and Mumbai doesn’t have a typical breakfast as such. People eat bread mostly, which just has carbohydrates,” said Malathi. According to her, Idli Sambhar is a “complete meal” since there is a good amount of carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables and lentils.


Cafe Madras: Dev Kamath (L) and Gopal Kamath (R)
Cafe Madras: Dev Kamath (L) and Gopal Kamath (R)
To learn more about the delicious idli, I travelled all the way to Chen… I’m kidding. I went to King’s Circle in Mumbai to Cafe Madras and met up with Dev Kamath. He is the third generation owner of this little cafe that serves the best South Indian food, specifically breakfast, in the city. Cafe Madras first opened in 1940 and since then has maintained its reputation by being consistent in their quality.

Cafe Madras

“More than presentation, we care about how the dish tastes. People won’t remember what it looks like once what they’ve eaten is delicious” says Dev. Born into the family business; Dev is very passionate about knowing the recipe and ensuring that the quality never drops.

Now talking about why this little idli is the king of breakfast – it’s healthy. The combination of urad and par boiled rice makes it very healthy. The fermentation process increases the bioavailability of proteins and increases the Vitamin B content. Cafe Madras uses more urad in their recipe, which Dev says makes the idli really fluffy and light. The traditional wet steam used to cook the idlis makes it very soft. The moist character sticks out as soon as you take a bite of it. “The idlis are very light on your stomach. Compared to parathas and other breakfast items from other cities, idlis are gentle on your stomach and digest easily” says Dev.

On its own, idlis are rather bland. The condiments that are served with the idlis are coconut chutney and sambhar. Coconut chutney is a straight forward recipe – fresh coconut, chilli, roasted chana dal and a tempering for flavour. Sambhar isn’t watery and diluted; instead it is just like homemade sambhar with some vegetables and a robust flavour. In addition to this, the idli is smeared with a bit of white butter (rich in Vitamin D) and sprinkled with malgapodi (spicy dry chutney made of different dals and seeds). The resulting dish is nothing short of ambrosial. Dev insisted of eating them while they’re piping hot because that’s when they taste the best. Although, I must confess I have had many a cold idlis while growing up with a little sprinkle of sugar. That’s a different thing altogether.

Rasam Vada at Cafe Madras
Rasam Vada at Cafe Madras
Apart from idlis, other really healthy breakfast alternatives that hail from Chennai are assorted dosas. Whether you like a crisp Sada Dosa with potato masala or iron rich Raagi Dosa with chutney or a simple Neer Dosa with Coconut Stew, the breakfast menu is extensive and there’s something for everyone. Word of advice – try the Rasam Vada too. It’s deliciously light and airy and the Rasam is a perfect blend of spice and sour. “Curry leaves in the rasam cut bad cholesterol in the oil used for tempering. This makes it lighter on the stomach and healthier” says Dev.
So head to your nearest South Indian breakfast joint or to Cafe Madras like I did, to get your daily fix and start your day in a healthy way.