If you were suspecting any American and Chinese links to the delicacy here, then be ready to be taken by surprise.
What was the last meal combo you tried that made you go like, ‘how were these two even existing separately before’? My first tryst with Kesari was in a train to Bengaluru. Before you gasp in horror, I would like to say that it was an attempt that I would rate decent. At least, I was intrigued enough to give this melt-in-your-mouth, ‘Halwa-like’ dish another 'proper' try. Kesari is a semolina-based sweet porridge flavoured with saffron, which is also explains Kesari’s characteristic orange hue. When I tried ordering the same in a Bengaluru restaurant, my friend insisted I go for the ‘Chow Chow Baath’. With a name that fascinating, I was already on board before she even started explaining how that would be a better idea.
In Karnataka, you would find a range of interesting ‘Baaths’, a soft and mushy mix of either lentil, rice, or rava. While Bisi Bele Baath, a spicier cousin of khichdi, merits a place in lunches for its wholesome nature, something like a ‘Khara Baath’, alternatively known as Rava Upma and ‘Kesari Baath’ are popular breakfast or snack items. The Chow-Chow Baath is, in fact, a combination of the two. That’s right. If you were suspecting any American and Chinese links to the delicacy here, then be ready to be taken by surprise.
‘Chow Chow’ is just a local way of referring to a ‘mixture’. It is the coming together of savoury and sweet in a fashion that is also pleasing to the eye. Typically, they are served on the same plate next to each other as two mounds, while the Kesari Baath has a distinct gloss, courtesy of the copious amount of ghee it is cooked in, the Rava upma's sticky texture shines with colourful chunks of veggies peeking through the perfectly flat top of the mound.
To understant more about the Khara Baath, we need to understand the popularity of rava in South India in general. It's often seen as a healthier option to rice, another South Indian cuisine staple. But it's much more than that. Rava or semolina offer an inimitable crunch in dishes like dosa and a deeper, distinct flavour in dishes like Rava idli. It was rava that helped MTR survive the rice shortage during world war 2. The restaurant started using rava to make idlis and gave birth to an iconic snack that we know as Rava idli today.
It is made with urad dal, rava, green chillies, peas, finely chopped carrots and other seasonal vegetables. Rava upma has a mild taste. It is usually paired with sambhar or chutney. In Chow Chow Bath, the sweet, sinful goodness of Kesari Baath complements the savouriness of Rava Upma.
What’s more impressive is that both these dishes are effortless to make at home. Here are the recipes of Kesari and Khara Baath. Try to make it at home and let us know.