Idling Away in the Morning

Indian breakfast

India is home to 1.2 billion people, 2,000 ethnic groups, six of the world’s major religions and countless minor ones, 22 officially recognized languages, 1,635 listed mother tongues, and an estimated 10,000 different dialects and variations. And when it comes to food, the numbers are just as high with the cuisine mainly divided into North and South along with at least 35 major regional styles dotting the Indian culinary landscape. So to answer the question – what do Indians eat for breakfast? – is probably as feasible as, say, trying to document the 10,000 existing Indian mother tongues and the number of people that use them.

Recently, however, a Southern Indian breakfast staple has come into vogue. While the world mostly knows Indian food through globalized Northern staples such as paneerkorma and masala, within India itself, spurred on by the spread of the internet and the increasing cultural exchange between regions, the combination of mysore masala dosa and idli sambhar are slowly taking over the breakfast tables across India.

“Northern Indian foods are, as a rule, heavy. There’s a lot of butter, cheese, nuts, gravies. For breakfast, Northern is a bit too heavy for most people and that is why the lighter Southern dishes are better for breakfast,” says Mohammad Taj, manager of Tandoor, one among a handful of authentic Saigon-based South Indian restaurants.

Hailing from Chennai, both mysore masala dosa and idli sambhar are vegetarian dishes, making them universally available to all Indians regardless of dietary limitations and a boon to vegetarians everywhere else. Mysore masala dosa (VND80,000) is stuffed naan with an outer layer of crispy rice batter skin covering a soft, rich filling of cooked potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and coconut. Idli Sambhar (VND65,000), on the other hand, comprises of two parts: idli (a savory, spongy rice cake that is ubiquitous to South Indian cuisine) and sambhar (a spicy hot vegetable brew made of lentils, chilies, coriander seeds and various spices). Coconut sauce and a tomato and onion sauce round out the flavor of the breakfast.


Simple, hearty and potentially addictive, the key to the popularity of the two breakfast dishes lies in their simplicity, low cost and the rich nutrients they provide. Their mild flavors are easy intermediaries between the more extreme spectrums of Indian cuisines thus making them far easier to eat for first timers.

“For as long as we can remember, we have always been eating these foods so it’s difficult to say how and when they began,” says Taj. “They are traditional home meals that are simple and cheap, and aside from preparation, do not take much time or skill to make. The key to making a perfectly crisp mysore masala dosa is in controlling the heat of the pan – exactly 85 degree Celsius. No more. No less. They are comfortable and they fill you with energy for the day. Once you are done, finish with a cup of steaming hot Indian masala tea and you will be filled with energy for the entire day.”

Tandoor: 74/6 Hai Ba Trung, D1

Images by Ngoc Tran & Adam Robert Young

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