Not just idli-dosa: 10 South Indian breakfast options for those craving variety

These traditional breakfast foods are healthy and tasty, too.
Not just idli-dosa: 10 South Indian breakfast options for those craving variety
Not just idli-dosa: 10 South Indian breakfast options for those craving variety
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While one can never have too much of idli or dosa as a true blue South Indian, sometimes, your tongue might crave for variety.

With diabetes and other lifestyle diseases pushing people to explore healthier options, breakfasts with complex carbohydrates that include oats, millets and other flours that were traditionally considered poor people’s food (like ragi and bajra) are making a comeback. With their lower glycemic indices, these grains are an excellent alternative to the usual rice/wheat-based foods for breakfast.

However, there are many healthy traditional South Indian breakfast options, too – just that many of these have become “festival” foods or are not made often enough in the kitchen. Here’s a list of 10 such options!


Upma, also called Uppittu is a kind of porridge originating in the Western and Southern parts of India. It is made with vegetables, and some grain – rice/wheat/semolina/rava/sago etc., with seasoning added and cooked to a thick consistency. Upma has now transcended its roots and is made all over the country. If you’re looking for a change out of the ordinary, try making some delicious bread upma, egg upma or even idli upma from leftover idlis for a tantalising treat.


Kozhukattai also called modak, is a rice dumpling that is traditionally made with a spicy dal filling or a sweet jaggery filling. It is usually made for Ganesh Chathurthi. But many make it for regular breakfast, too.

The most common is the kara kozhukattai which has a filling that is made of seasoned and spiced ground Bengal gram. More varieties include the Kerala version – thanni kozhukattai, which is the dumpling sans the filling and served with the water that it was boiled in. A favourite with the kids is the ammini kozhukattai –mini dumplings that are seasoned with soaked yellow moong dal and fresh coconut flakes and tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves and red chillies. Also, don’t forget to check out upma kozhukattai - a version made from broken raw rice.


Kanji is the porridge of the south. Nothing signals a home remedy for an upset stomach or a recovering child like a bowl full of soulful rice kanji.

Equivalent to the quintessential chicken soup when it comes to comfort food, the kanji has also undergone multiple transformations and is now made from ragi, jowl, oats and other millets and grains too.

Satthumaavu kanji or the multigrain health mix, now popularised by companies like Manna, has always been traditionally introduced as one of the first solid foods for a new-born. Each of the 9-12 grains are painstakingly roasted and ground or better yet, milled, for fine powder consistency.

A couple of scoops of this nutrient-rich powder is cooked in water or milk till it reduces and reaches a porridge-consistency. Easy to digest, quick to ingest and healthy, all at once, kanjis are still a preferred breakfast among the old who lack the teeth for crunchier things, and the busy, who lack the sit down time for meals.

Puttu – kadala curry

Puttu literally means “portioned” and it refers to the popular Keralite breakfast dish of steamed cylinders of rice and coconut made in a special mould. It is also vastly popular in neighbouring Sri Lanka. Because it’s steamed, this dish is considered healthy and makes a heavenly combination with kadala curry – a spicy gravy made from shallots and black channa. Banana and pappadam are other favoured accompaniments. In some places, the puttu is also served with a mutton kheema. See what works for you and pair it as you like.


Poha refers to the flattened rice flakes which are then washed in water to fluff them up and make a breakfast dish that is light and refreshing. The dish has its roots in this form in Maharashtra.

There are many variations of this dish like the kanda poha (onion poha). The milagu aval (pepper poha) is a South Indian take on the dish. The varieties are only restricted by your imagination.


Idiyappam once again is a Tamil/Keralite dish consisting of steamed rice noodles. It’s also called nool puttu (thread-like puttu) or ‘string hoppers’. Traditionally, the rice flour mixture is made with seasoning in hot water till it comes together. It is then rolled into a stiff ball and fed into a modern-day hand-held kitchen press to squeeze noodles out into idli plates and then steamed. This is the idiyappam.

When the rice ball is first cooked and then pressed by an olden day sevai press that looks like a tripod, it is called sevai. Both are pretty similar in texture and taste. They’re traditionally paired with kurma – a spicy gravy with mixed veggies or with coconut milk. Modern twists involve making lemon/tomato/tamarind versions. Or better still noodles from ragi and other millets.


Cousin of the more popular dosa, the aapam is really not celebrated enough. Once again, this is a dish we have in common with Sri Lanka. It is made from fermented rice batter in a special curved pan. It isn’t flipped over like dosa when being made.

The aapam features a spongy centre and a crisp bowl-like form. It’s light on the tummy and pairs great with sweetened coconut milk, kurma or anything else you’d fancy. As with popular dishes, the aapam has its own varieties too – palappam (milky aapam), egg aapam, honey aapam, etc.


An ode to Chettinad culture, whoever discovered paniyarams is a genius. It’s called paddu in Andhra Pradesh and is usually made from leftover batter of idlis and dosas. It uses a special mould that has different holes. The batter is poured and cooked on either side. It can be served with any condiment of choice – sambar, chutneys, pickles and thokkus alike. And there’s no better way to finish off the dosa batter than make paniyarams with it.


Another cousin of the dosa, the pesarattu is a quintessential Andhra dish. Instead of rice and urad dal as batter ingredients, green moong dal takes centerstage. It doesn’t need to be fermented before being made, which adds to its instant appeal. Closer in form to the adai (which also combines multiple pulses), the pesarattu is an excellent, protein-rich breakfast option that can be served with the usual suspects – sambar et al.

Vada curry

Another Chettinad dish, this one is popular all over the south. As the name suggests, this is a curry made out of vadas. This heavy and filling dish is the vada’s answer to the world famous kotthu parotta. Served best with chutney.

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