Ragi porridge in Bangalore
Growing up in a traditional South Indian family in Bangalore, I came to love sweet breakfasts just as well as savory ones. We’d often have something sweet at the ready in the mornings, and Mother’s free-handedness with ghee and jaggery only enhanced the sugar rush.
While those ingredients can easily waltz their way into halwa varieties, we mostly had them mixed into our one big staple: Ragi porridge. Ragi, or finger millet, wasn’t just a grain rich in proteins and minerals: it was a sacred part of good health and vitality.
Making it was no picnic; it called for days of elbow grease, from the storeroom to the grinding stone. The Ragi kernels were first unpacked from musty gunny bags in the storeroom at the back of the kitchen, then washed and dried out on a soft, white, muslin cloth laid out like nine yards of a sari on the terrace. Once dry, they were brought down to the backyard, where Grandma and Mother would huddle up around a coal-fired stove bearing a large cast-iron pan. They would then break into an elaborate folk song about the goodness of Ragi, as they threw the sun-dried kernels into the heated pan to roast them.
Once cooled, they’d be packed into large tin boxes for the housemaid to take to the local flour mill, where they’d be ground to a silken smoothness. This aromatic, earthy powder would then transform into a sticky-sweet, ambrosial porridge every morning, as Mother whisked it with hot milk, dollops of ghee, and jaggery powder, topped off with a kiss of cardamom. She’d fill tall glasses with this superfood and line them on the counter, and if we were all to get to school or work in time, we had to pick up a glass and drink up.
When I moved out and went on to live across continents, Mother would send me goodies through kindly folks who were headed my way, and there was always a pack of Ragi porridge blend in the mix. I’d rarely been short on supply, save for a few weeks here and there. Since her passing last year, and my own homecoming a little before that, I’ve tried scores of store-bought packaged millets: muesli and granola, for example, doused in warm milk or cold yogurt, but the one thing I can’t seem to shake off is the yearning for the singularly spectacular drink that made past breakfasts so fulfilling at Mother’s. After a bit of careful exploration, I’ve finally found Indira’s Popped Ragi mix at my local grocer’s, which tastes almost as good as Mother’s, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
I’ve since resumed the ‘drink up’ morning routine, which has duly been passed on to my American-born child, whose persnickety breakfast preferences typically run toward pancakes and French toast, but who can sometimes be found drinking a glass of Ragi porridge.