100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 35, Morning Thali at Pondicheri
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg Start your day with a wholesome morning thali from Pondicheri.
I've never been a savory food for breakfast kind of person. I like a good breakfast taco on occasion, but by and large I tend to prefer muffins, croissants, pancakes, coffee cakes and anything else with a lot of carbs and little nutritional value.
Which is why I was surprised by how much I loved Pondicheri's savory breakfast stunner, the Morning Thali, when I tried it for the first time. The Hindi word thali translates to plate, referring to the large, usually stainless steel, platter on which the selection of small dishes is served. Pondicheri offers a number of different thalis for lunch and dinner, but the morning one has become my new favorite way to greet the day.
Pondicheri's take on thali includes four little bowls called katori filled with the chef's choice of side dishes, which don't frequently vary from what's listed on the menu. There will usually be a bowl of aloo dum, potato curry that's more starchy than it is spicy, thanks to the light curry sauce covering the soft chunks of potato. There's also upma, a traditional breakfast porridge made from semolina with small bits of vegetables and turmeric mixed in, and a slightly sweetened saffron yogurt with chopped fruit scattered across the top.
Clockwise from 7 o'clock: beef keema, aloo dum, upma, yogurt, chutney and paratha.
My favorite elements of the morning thali, though, are the beef keema, a spicy blend of ground beef with caramelized onions, cumin and some heat from chile powder and what I believe was a hint of garam masala, and the carrot paratha, which I dipped in everything else on my plate.
The paratha is an oval-shaped flatbread laced with carrots and green onions. It's similar to naan, but is cooked in a frying pan instead of an oven, and is usually made with wheat flour instead of white. It's less doughy than naan, which makes it ideal for topping with a fried sunny side up egg and a generous pour of the cilantro chutney that accompanies the dish.
The morning thali is more complex than what I'm used to eating for breakfast (hey, Starbucks!), and I suspect it's a bit of a departure for most other people as well. Still, any morning I make the time to sit and enjoy a thali at Pondicheri, I find myself satisfied for almost the entire day, filled with lean, healthy proteins and veggies.
Now if only I could get it from a drive-through.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.