Food for Thought
Houston gets its first Indian breakfast spot: Jaisinghani tackles mornings atPondicheri
Breakfast has become Houston’s new favorite meal. Restaurants everywhere are doing it.
It used to be, if the family wanted to eat out in the morning, or if power people needed a morning meal to close deals over, they wound up at Avalon Drug Co. & Diner, chowing down over plates of biscuits and cream gravy, eggs and bacon or pancake stacks, discussing deals and soccer schedules.
And, of course, there was always Tex-Mex: Spots like La Mexicana, where breakfast tacos and more have been dished out at early morning hours for decades.
But today we have more choices. As reported earlier on CultureMap, Ouisie’s Table is now open at 7 a.m. serving Southern comfort food, Tiny Boxwood’s (it of the funny signs) offers fresh fruits and breakfast tacos, and even Phil’s Texas Barbecue is offering (surprise!) barbecue for breakfast.
And now comes (drum roll please) Indian food for breakfast.
Yes, I said Indian food.
“My pet peeve is that I have a hard time finding a place for breakfast,” says chef Anita Jaisinghani, owner of Indika and the new Pondicheri at West Ave.
“You go somewhere and ask for fresh juice and they serve you something from a can.”
Not so at Pondicheri, where they squeeze fresh juice daily and the baker arrives at 5 a.m. to start on brioches and breads for the grab-and-go and dine-in morning rush. They are now open for breakfast at 7 a.m.
But will Houstonians flock to Pondicheri for a take-out or sit down Indian breakfast? And just what the heck is an Indian breakfast anyway? I love the all-you-can-eat buffets at Indian restaurants from Upper Kirby to the Harwin Drive area but I’ve never had an Indian breakfast before.
“I really don’t know what people will respond to,” admits Jaisinghani. “This is a first for Houston.”
So far breakfast hasn’t been as busy as the lunch and dinner rush at Pondicheri, but that’s just because Houston hasn’t embraced Indian breakfast yet.
“People think of me as this popular chef with a fancy restaurant,” Jaisinghani. “But I want Pondicheri to be a more accessible, casual place and I want the residents here, the workers, the cab drivers and the neighborhood moms on their way to school to stop in and have breakfast or grab a frankie to go.”
A frankie? What the heck is a frankie?
Basically, it’s a wrap, a Mumbai street food of meats or veggies piled into whole-wheat chapatis or roti.
Duh, it’s a breakfast taco!
At Pondicheri’s, the frankies come loaded with masala eggs, wonderfully cooked with corn, red bell peppers and onions. You can add keema (a spicy ground beef) for a dollar more. Both versions are under four bucks and are easy to grab and go for a morning meal.
Or, you can sit down at the trendy Pondicheri’s with its floating curtains and elegant metal work and tuck into an Indian coffee or cappuccino and order the keema paratha breakfast. Which is really just sausage, toast and eggs, done Indian style.
Seriously, it’s a wonderful meal of whole-wheat, unleavened grilled flat bread with a fried egg on top and a side of spicy keema — slow cooked beef simmered with onions, spices and tomatoes.
“I have a zillion ideas for breakfast,” Jaisinghani says. “But I don’t know what people are going to respond to. But I have been doing Indian lunch and dinner for 10 years now and I’m having fun playing with breakfast, I love it.”
So far, the morning menu is pretty inclusive. The traditional Indian dishes are divine and not that different than Tex-Mex tastes or American breakfasts, although they may look a tad different. And there are some basics, like the vanilla bean crepe.
“It’s not Indian,” says Jaisinghani of the crepe with Nutella, bananas or peanut butter. “But I’ve made it for my kids when they were growing up and they made me put it on the menu.”
There’s also Texas French toast, with fresh fruit and jaggery (whole cane sugar) cinnamon syrup.
“That’s totally American,” she says. “I lay no claim to that.”
And, for vegans, there’s a wonderful dish of vegetable upma, a savory hash made from onions, ginger, carrots and green peas topped with kari leaves and chopped peanuts.
And, apparently, one breakfast diner has been in almost daily to nosh on the steel cut oats, which are similar to what we know but are actually an Indian dish that combines oats with cracked wheat.
“I didn’t want to use the Indian name on the menu,” Jaisinghani says, “because I was afraid people wouldn’t know what it was and freak out.”
Do not be freaked out about Indian food for breakfast. It’s really the same breakfast food you normally eat, only in a different presentation and with a little cumin, turmeric and coriander to kick up the spices.
If you like Tex-Mex for breakfast, or even spicy sausage, eggs and toast, you’ll love Indian food.
It’s what’s for breakfast.
Don’t fear it. Embrace it. It’s the new breakfast food.