If there’s one thing you can take for granted in Bengaluru, it’s how almost every dish at the city’s traditional eateries is served piping hot. ‘Bisi’ is the Kannada word for hot and it’s the prefix in the region’s favourite mixed rice – Bisi Bele Bhath. There’s another dish that’s usually served ‘bisi’, it’s one of my ‘go to’ breakfast or anytime dishes in the city – Chow Chow Bhath. It’s essentially two dishes brought together on a single platter. There’s the spicy Kara Bhath or Uppitu (or what is also known as the Rava Upma) and the sweet Kesari Bhath (sheera or sooji halwa).
Semolina (Rava) and ghee are the common ingredients but one’s a savoury dish and the other is a sweet that is also prepared for festivals. According to old-timers in Bengaluru, the idea of combining these two distinct dishes into a single ‘Chow Chow Bhath’ might have well been invented in the city’s restaurants. It’s not something that was traditionally served at homes.
Some of the city’s iconic restaurants like Kamat’s and MTR have been serving this for decades while other eateries like Brahmin’s Coffee Bar and Vidyarthi Bhavan allow you to order these dishes separately or together. The term ‘chow chow’ has nothing to do with the American expression chow (food) that gained currency in the 1860s. In Tamil Nadu for instance chow chow is the local name for the chayote vegetable that is used in sambars and poriyals. In Karnataka chow chow is an informal expression used for ‘mixture’ and it’s possible that Chow Chow Bhath was used to describe this mix of sweet and spicy.
While it’s common for restaurants to serve Chow Chow Bhath in Bengaluru along with coconut chutney, it’s unheard of in Chennai where Rava Upma and Rava Kesari are never served together in the same dish. However, over the last couple of decades, many of Chennai’s restaurants serve mini tiffin that combines a small portion of Rava Upma, Rava Kesari, a small dosa and a coin-sized idli in sambar.
The Kesari Bhath is also made with pineapple and can be served in a variety of colours (yellow and orange are the most common colours while it’s not entirely unusual to spot a green version) depending on the food colours that are used. The Khara bhath sometimes also includes seasonal vegetables like fresh green peas and is served with a garnish of finely grated carrots. On a typical balmy Bengaluru weekend, few dishes hit the spot like a piping hot Chow Chow Bhath followed by a refreshing cup of freshly brewed filter coffee.
You can try making Chow Chow Bhath at home with this simple recipe:
Rava: 1 cup
Water: 2 cups
Oil/Ghee: 1/2 cup
Seasoning: Mustard, Urad Dal, Channa Dal, Cashew nuts (1 teaspoon of each)
Finely chopped green chillies: 3
Coriander: a handful
Finely grated carrot (for the garnish)
Green peas: 1/2 cup (optional)
Salt: to taste
Curry leave: a few sprigs
Finely chopped tomato: 1
Turmeric: 1/4 teaspoon
- Dry roast rava in quarter teaspoon of oil/ghee.
- Add the seasoning ingredients to a pan of oil/ghee.
- Add onions and a few sprigs of curry leaves and green chillies once the oil starts to splutter.
- Fry till the onions turn brown.
- Add water, chopped tomatoes, green peas.
- Add the rava slowly, stir continuously and make sure no lumps form.
- Continue stirring for about 7-10 minutes till the dish is done and ‘leaves’ the pan.
- Garnish with chopped coriander and grated carrot. Cover dish with a lid for about 5 minutes.
- Add a dollop of ghee before serving.
Rava: 1 cup
Water: 2 cups
Sugar: 1 1/2 cups
Ghee: 1/2 cup
Cashew nuts: handful
Saffron: a few strands
Cardamom: 6 (finely pounded)
Food colouring (optional)
- Add the ghee to a pan.
- Fry the cashews and raisins till the cashews turn brown.
- Add and fry till it turns golden brown.
- Boil water separately (add food colouring).
- Add the water to the rava gradually and keep stirring making sure no lumps are not formed.
- Add sugar once the rava and water are mixed well and keep stirring till it is done.
- Add cardamom, saffron (mixed with a few drops of warm milk) and a dollop of ghee before serving.