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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 35, Morning Thali at Pondicheri

Start your day with a wholesome morning thali from Pondicheri.
Start your day with a wholesome morning thali from Pondicheri.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg

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.

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.

Clockwise from 7 o'clock: beef keema, aloo dum, upma, yogurt, chutney and paratha.
Clockwise from 7 o'clock: beef keema, aloo dum, upma, yogurt, chutney and paratha.

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.

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.

 

The list so far: No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme

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