Hundred thousand Dollar Upma

Noted writer K.R. Narayanan shares his Upma experiences


A report appeared in a leading daily attracted me very much. The reason was that our very familiar desi (naadan) breakfast, Upma (called also Uppumma, Uppumavu, etc.)  won a fabulous prize of 100,000 US Dollars for an Indian Chef. Of course, the south Indian dish had to undergo some minor modifications to suit the American palate. Nonetheless, the pasty Madrasi Palaharam, made out of flour and sometimes blended with vegetables, attained an important place in the breakfast menu of that country.

Uppuma of Tamilnadu or the Uppumavu of Kerala or Uppittu of Karnataka has always been an emergency food – be it a breakfast or a snack miscellany to go with the evening coffee/tea. Originated in the rice eating South Indian states, the original Upmas used to be made of ground rice. The diabetics’ Upma was popular side by side but was made of wheat flour (Gothambu Rava). It appears, due to shortage of rice and wheat during the Second World War and a few decades thereafter, the   Semolina flour (popular as Rava) became the principal ingredient of this common dish. Somehow or other, Rava continued as an Upma ingredient since then. This desi pudding underwent many value additions to diversify in flavor and taste, as tomatoes, carrots and like were added upon to the main cereal.

During our childhood, Uppumavu and Pazham (plantain) used to be standard item for breakfast in the hotels. The Udupi hotels popularized Uppummas of various flavors through the length and breadth of the country.

The households (especially of Tamil and Malayali Brahmins), however, used to serve as a breakfast, evening snack and also as an emergency food. We have seen, during our younger days, the house wives rushing to the kitchen to make some Uppumma as and when guests visit unexpectedly. It has been a must for the Iyer Brahmins in the breakfasts during the social and religious functions (like upanayanam, marriages, etc.).

The then master chef of our place, Vaithy Mama, had a special knack of making pleasant flavored Uppumas during social and religious functions and we the kids used to vie with each other to grab the breakfast.

The caterers in the Indian Railways always found a solace on this food-item, when their usual idlis, dosas, vadas or even lunch/dinner become out of stock, as Uppuma can be prepared fast without much difficulty.

The Indian Airlines and subsequently the then Air India used to entertain their passengers with Uppuma and its variants. Uppuma crossed the boundary of South India, Indian subcontinent and the continent of Asia. It established in the US, across the Pacific, through its Indian residents a couple of decades ago. And now has it come to lime light bagging a prize of lakh dollars in the United States


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