Upma works equally well for breakfast, lunch, dinner or in between meals. With the cross-pollination of cooking styles over the last few decades, it's not unusual to stumble upon poha or sabudana upma (or maybe we should say khichdi) in urban homes in South India. However, it's the traditional style upmas that still rule the roost here.
If etymology is your scene, the word for 'up' in all the south Indian languages combines salt and flour. It's why you have uppittu (uppu for salt and pittu for flour) in Kannada or uppumavu in Tamil. Semolina (Rava) is usually the go-to ingredient for upma almost across south India but there are quite a few iterations with an assortment of staples:
Chow- Chow bath
Old Bengaluru's restaurants can probably take credit for combining a spicy Ravauppittu (also referred to as Khara Bath) and Kesari bath (or Sheera) in a single dish that is served bisi (piping hot) for breakfast. In Karnataka, chow chow is an informal expression used for 'mixture'. It's possible that chow chow bath was used to describe this mix of sweet and spicy.
Whole wheat upma
Whole wheat or wheat Dalia (cracked wheat) is a common variation of Upma in Tamil Nadu, where it is eaten for breakfast or dinner. Sometimes it is cooked with vegetables like peas, carrots, and beans.
The rediscovery and growing popularity of millets, especially among well-informed urban audiences is seeing a variety of upmas that cleverly use the goodness of millets. Some of these dishes have also started to make an appearance at new-age health food restaurants in Chennai and Bengaluru. Foxtail millet (Thinai in Tamil/Navane in Kannada) works really well.
Another popular upma variety is that made with seviyan or vermicelli. It has roasted peanuts, cashews, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal and curry leaves cooked with chopped onions and veggies. Then roasted seviyan is added to it along with water and allowed to sit on a low flame until the vermicelli is soft and noodle-like. A healthy, one-pot meal, this is ideal for a light lunch meal as well.
So the next time you crave some light yet healthy snack, bring upma to your rescue and satisfy those hunger pangs!