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What is Upma?

By Janis Adams
Updated May 16, 2024
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Traditionally served as a breakfast porridge in the southern part of India, upma is similar to farina. It is also referred to as uppindi, uppittu, and uppeet. Upma is a ground wheat cooked to a tender consistency. Plain upma has a bland and simple taste, so spices, beans, or nuts are often added to it when served.

Although it originated as a hot breakfast cereal, the dish is now served not only in southern India but throughout the country as part of brunch or as a snack. While similar to many a breakfast-type porridge, upma is not sweet as so many of the hot cereals tend to be. Instead, it is more savory in flavor. With onions, chillies, and tomatoes often added to it, the flavor has a depth of character and distinction. Turmeric is the most common spice added to this breakfast porridge.

The base for upma is made from rava, or semolina flour. This coarsely ground flour is first fried until it turns light brown in color. After it is fried to the desired hue, it is then cooked with water and spices to a porridge-like consistency. Vegetables are often added during the cooking process. Chopped coriander and cashews are often used as a garnish when following a recipe similar to this.

Upma is a vegetarian dish common in the tradition of Tamil cuisine. It is a staple dish within this specific cuisine. A true traditional Tamil upma can also be made with broken pieces of rice in place of the common rava, as rice is a staple food. Whether with broken rice or rava, the savory flavoring additives remain largely the same, most commonly green chili and onion. Very strong tea and extremely strong coffee are the traditional beverage of choice when serving this vegetarian dish.

Upma is a simple breakfast dish to prepare. What largely differentiates the dish from one cook to another are those ingredients added to the basic recipe. On holidays, grated coconut is often substituted for onions. While coconut may lend a sweeter essence, the dish still remains a savory one. Another common additive is ground carrots. While the ground carrots not only add flavor, they also add a splash of color to what can often times be a rather bland-looking dish.

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