As the sun breaks over the Bay of Bengal, temple bells ring throughout Tamil Nadu in India. Even as they do, households from the myriad villages emit a mixture of religious verses, wood smoke and steam. The lady of the house now sits down to her daily chore of preparing breakfast.
The rice batter is ready. Yesterday she pounded it in her family's ancient stone grinder built into the corner of the kitchen floor. She then threw in a measured volume of lentils. Once the batter was ground to a fine grained consistency, it was scooped out and left overnight to ferment in a large covered stainless steel vessel.
Now the steam cooker is hot. The dimpled steaming dish is covered with an oiled cloth and set in the vessel. The batter poured into its wells. It is covered, and allowed to steam over the wood-and-dried-dung fire. Five minutes, ten minutes.
The idlis are ready. Idlis, the staple of Tamil Nadu, are prepared this way every morning. A seemingly simple dish; it takes years of observant practice to perfect. Undercooked, they taste of flour; overcooked, they're so hard that they have been used as weapons during riots. A woman's culinary reputation in Tamil Nadu rests on the softness of her idlis.
The grinding of the chutney. A few cut chillies, grated coconut, and lentils. No easier than an idli.
Then the preparation of the coffee. Stew ground beans in hot water for several minutes, then filter slowly through a percolator. Add sugar and hot milk.
The joint smells of idli and coffee waft through the household. The children rise, then the man of the house. Go quick, wash hands, feet and mouth. Switch on the radio. Joyous streams of Carnatic music, Raghuvamsa sudha for choice. Then settle for a sumptuous feast.
This is breakfast in Tamil Nadu, and I have eaten it for twenty-five years without ever losing its charm.