What’s the best breakfast dish in the world? Is it the UK’s full English? America’s waffles and pancakes? France’s croissants and jams? China’s dim sum and dumplings? Or Japan’s rice, fish and miso soup?
No, it’s an Indian dish by way of Portugal – Pav Bhaji.
Pav, Portuguese in origin (a literal translation being bread), are soft white rolls, while Bhaji is a vegetable curry from the Indian state of Maharashtra. The breakfast was born when Pav were introduced as a pairing for the Bhaji by the Portuguese when they controlled Maharashtra before handing it to the British as part of Catherine de Braganza’s dowry upon marrying Charles II. So, as a dish it’s got some historical pedigree.
Menus often describe Pav Bhaji as “tangy mashed potato with Indian spices served with soft rolls”. With this in mind, you wont be shocked to hear that the dish is a potato based curry served with toasted soft bread rolls.
When I first tried it I wasn’t sold: too spicy for breakfast. But I then added to the Bhaji the chopped onion and lemon that came with it. The addition of the onions (they are nearer in style to our shallots than onions) and lemon juice (the lemons are closer in look and colour to limes than lemons) makes the dish. Cutting through the spice, they produce a mouth-watering combination of tangy umami and spices. So good is the Bhaji that there’s no need for the Pav, other than to bulk the dish out.
Now my go-to breakfast when I’m in India, I’ve had multiple versions. In Jodhpur, I even came across a lamb mince version, but not even that could live up to the memory of the first one I had at Udaipur’s Lake Palace hotel. If you see this dish on a menu I can’t encourage you enough to try it, and be liberal with the shallots and lemon/lime or you’ll miss out.
If you want to try an Indian breakfast, or better yet brunch, then here are a couple of the best places to try in London:
- Dishoom – always popular for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it serves up modern Parsi food in the style of a “Bombay café”
- The Cinnamon Club – one of the first to offer a breakfast menu, and is still a popular place for modern Indian dining with an Anglo touch.
- Sparrow – A restaurant in the up and coming Lewisham, it serves a weekend brunch with a Sri Lankan and Western fusion.