Trains are undoubtedly one of India’s most favourite modes of transportation. And during train journeys, snacks are a common fare. While each region has its own preferred nibbles, Telangana’s favourite has been the Rail Palaram for ages. The soft steamed balls made of rice flour are favoured during travel and have also come to become a breakfast dish.

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Although Telangana was a part of Andhra Pradesh for the longest time, the cuisine of this region varies slightly. Not as hot and spicy as Andhra’s fiery fare, Telangana food is milder in taste. Due to the hot and dry climate of the region, agriculture is not a common practice. However, meat-based dishes find a place even in Telangana’s breakfast menu. Since travelling by train was a common mode of transport back in the olden days, people would pack food for the journey.

It is believed that Rail Palaram was invented during that time. For the unversed, the dish consists of balls made of rice flour dough that are steamed in an idli steamer. There are hints of lentils like black gram in the dough and later, the steamed balls are tossed in curry leaves, mustard seeds, split chickpeas, ginger and cumin seeds. The host of spices is what adds flavour to the dish, along with a subtle sweetness added by coconut. 

These steamed balls gradually became a snack that was packed and carried by people on their train journeys in Telangana. Commonly associated with Telangana’s Karimnagar district, these small bites get their name from the purpose for which they are used. Rail refers to trains and palaram is the Telugu word for snack. Today, these steamed balls are eaten for breakfast in Telangana as well as continue to hold its legacy of a train snack.  

The bite-sized rice dumplings are spruced up with several spices and coconut adds a slight crunch and sweetness which lends a distinct taste to this savoury snack. To make Rail Palaram, the Bengal gram and green gram are soaked in water and made into a paste. Meanwhile, rice flour is added to a bowl and mixed with water to make the dough. Spruced up with salt, the dough is then poured in the idli maker and steamed.

While the balls are being steamed, the process for tempering can begin for cumin seeds, curry leaves, prepared paste, onions, turmeric powder and red chilli powder. The balls are taken out of the steamed and tossed in the mixture for five minutes and served hot. This snack is not only tasty and quick to make but a healthy breakfast option too.