Posted by on January 7, 2013

Do you like Indian food? I have a heart for the people of India, and I really enjoy good food of all types, but I have a confession to make: Indian food is not my favorite. I will eat it (and indeed like some things), but I guess my palette just prefers other flavors that are more common in the United States. However, as I sought inspiration for this blog post, it occurred to me that maybe readers would be interested to know what the Bethania kids eat. So this is my feeble attempt to give you a “taste journey” to South India, courtesy of the Mysore Cafe in Rochester, Minnesota (please excuse my amateur photography).

While I am certainly not an expert, I think I can make a few general comments about South Indian food. First, like many other cultures of the world, rice is a staple ingredient. Many dishes are vegetarian and based on dried lentils, chickpeas, beans, and potatoes. You may find chicken and lamb, occasionally beef, but many practicing Hindus do not eat meat because cows are sacred in their religion. When I visited India I did not find much variety in the foods, and I’m sure this is due to the availability of ingredients in the region. It certainly made me more appreciative of all that I can enjoy in the States. So here is a short introduction* to some of the food that the Bethania kids are likely eating:

Idli and Sambar: This is a popular breakfast dish. Idlis are steamed cakes made of rice and fermented black lentils. Sambar is a vegetable stew made of pigeon peas.

Idli and Sambar

Dosai: This is very similar to a crepe. They are thin, crispy, rolled up, and taste slightly sour. Sometimes they can be really long! Fresh off the stove and served on a banana leaf, these are really good.


Dahl and Rice: My guess is that the Bethania kids eat this on a daily basis. I ate this quite often when I visited India. Dahl is another vegetable stew (similar to sambar) made of lentils or beans. It is a meatless form of protein that can be prepared in multiple ways, depending on the base ingredient.

Dahl and Rice

I can tell you with confidence that the children are well-nourished, and the cooks are good stewards of their grocery budgets. I recall eating lunch with a day care center on my last visit, and it was explained to me that the children are all given small portions at first. If they are still hungry after finishing their food, they may have seconds. But they are very careful not to waste any food. This was a good, humbling reminder when I consider the enormous plates served at many American restaurants.

So the next time you find yourself at an Indian buffet, or picking up frozen Chicken Biriyani at Trader Joe’s, I hope you’ll be reminded of the Bethania Kids. It is due to the generosity of so many donors that these children are healthy and thriving, even if what they eat daily isn’t necessarily what stocks my refrigerator.

*Wikipedia.org was helpful to me in preparing this blog piece.

Bethania has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I folded Bethania newsletters in our dining room. I have traveled to India in 1995 and 2009, at which time I was fortunate to witness the growth of these ministries and the very real transformation happening in these children's lives. From 2006 to 2011, I was the chair of the Sponsor A Child Program, and currently I am an Associate Member of the Board of Directors. I live in Rochester, Minnesota with my husband and young son, where I work as an audiologist.

13 Responses to Idli, sambar, dosai, dahl, and rice!

  1. Polly Hennig says:

    Kate, what an interesting blog you wrote about the food which”our children” eat in India! As you well know, I am passionately in love with India–yes, also, with the food–and it gives me such joy that you have been and continue to be involved with our ministries there. Ever so much love, your Grandma

  2. Barbara & Hank Richter says:

    Thanx for sharing about the food. Very interesting and great to know the $ we send are really help keep the kids healthy w ith decent food. Keep up the good work. God Bless you.

  3. melinda peters says:

    Loved the piece – because we are always interested in the Bethania Kids, and staff, but we love indian food and prepare many indian dishes at home here in Los Angeles. In Penzey’s Spice Catalogue, about a yr ago they published my recipe for “Indian Hamburgers”!

  4. Kate Teece says:

    Thank you!

  5. Sarah Christine says:

    Yum! Simple south Indian food is some of the best. Thanks for the descriptions!

  6. Greg Gresens says:

    Thank you Kate for your work and passion for the wonderful people of South India.
    I was so blessed to be part of a group that was in Nagercoil in 2009. Michael Raja, a man who has a tremendous heart for South India introduced us to Bethania, and what a blessing it was!
    Your descriptions of the foods had me tasting the curry all over again. I suppose it is a learned and acquired taste.
    I long for the day when i can see Bethania again. I pray and ask God that He would bless the efforts of those who do so much for the girls and boys there, and that He would watch over those little ones.
    Thank you for the trip down memory lane.


  7. Kate says:

    It appears that I am in the minority as far as South Indian cuisine goes. Oh well! 🙂

  8. ruth rawhouser says:

    Very interesting, thank you. I would appreciate more info from people who know Bethania so well. We sponsor a child so are very interested about his life in India.

    • Anne Braaten says:

      Oops, Ruth, I didn’t see that I should click on “reply”. So my note to you appears elsewhere on the page… oops… 🙂

  9. Kate Teece says:

    Melinda: No kidding! We get the Penzey’s catalog and love their spices. I missed your recipe, but would love to try it! Please email it to me at kate@bethaniakids.org, and we can post it to the blog.

    Loving all the comments! Thanks for reading!

  10. Joe Murchison says:

    Melinda: I want the Indian hamburger recipe too!

  11. marilyn Rotermund says:

    I was fortunate to live with the Hennigs for one year when I taught with principal Al Hennig. Not all their children were even born, so you know how long ago that’s been. I am blessed to still hear from Polly and that got me “into” Bethania. The food was all new to me and I’d probably not like it too much but it’s good to know that it’s good for the children. It’s too bad that more American homes don’t use introduce new tastes like they do in India.

  12. Anne Braaten says:


    Being a little kid growing up in Kodaikanal in the early 70s, I had the privilege of getting to know kids in this mountain village – and getting a tiny taste of the difficulties of their lives. My parents were involved with BethaniaKids early on, and my mom, a nurse, would occasionally visit local orphanages to give care. So, my caring about these many kids has been a part of my life for, well, most of my life. Thus it was SUCH a joy!! and privilege to get to visit the BethaniaKids’ Home in Nagercoil 2 (!) years ago. I put together a Facebook album of my visit and would be glad to send you the link to it, if you’d like to see it. I just need your email, I think. You can send it to me at annalog@earthlink.net.

    You must be Ashley’s Mum? 🙂

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