That day, breakfast called for idli. I even went the extra mile to make two varieties of it. Scanning the dailies post the meal, I realise it is a cosmic coincidence: it is The World Idli Day! I am tickled by the happenstance, for, idli evokes emotions, especially in south Indians.
As a staple diet for all seasons, idli rules the roost at mealtimes and celebrations alike. Its light-on- the tummy, fat-free and nutritional aspects make it a favourite diet choice for toddlers to the convalescent. In fact, idli takes centre stage at the Kanchipuram temple as prasadam (holy offering).
Over the years the popularity of the idli has risen, and justifiably so, as this dish goes well with just about anything. Whatever may be its avatar, idli has garnered global patronage, which is only growing. Did you know, Gary Mehigan wants to master the idli despite being a fan of the dosa (idli’s sibling)?
Pinning the badge
March 30 is officially earmarked for paying ode to the humble, steamed, savoury cake. The credit for it goes to Iniyavan and Rajamani Iyer. Iyer is the president of the Tamilnadu Catering Union while Iniyavan, nicknamed ‘Idli king’, is a Chennai cook and a Guinness record holder — he has cooked 2,000 varieties and the world’s heaviest idli weighing 124 kilograms. His efforts have earned him a doctorate from an American University too.
Though well known as a south Indian dish, it is interesting to know that the origins of the idli are debatable and remain unresolved.
One of Karnataka’s historical culinary text called the Vaddaradhane mentions a version of the idli called ‘Iddalika’, whereas Tamil literature points to an ‘Itali’. As the confusion continues, Gujarati texts claim that their ‘Idada’ – a dhokla version – travelled south and became the idli. All the three descriptions are mentioned around the 10th to 13th century AD; the origins could be anywhere as the dynasty ruling these regions expanded their kingdom taking their cuisines with them.
Food historian KT Achaya, however, differs. In his book The Illustrated Foods of India A-Z, he conjectures that idli the is an Indonesian import! According to him, the present day idli — a combination of rice, lentils, fermentation and steaming — has similarities with the Indonesian ‘Kedli’ and may have been brought to India by the cooks who accompanied the Hindu kings of that era.
However, his contemporaries question this claim as they are yet to find evidence to his opinion.
With the experts arguing, the puzzle of the idli continues.
That in no way need deter us from gorging on them, should it? Palate- havens around the world zealously spring into action to serve on their menus melt-in-the mouth idlis in a spectrum of colours. While the regular restaurants offer varieties with different accompaniments, the gourmet gurus jog their grey cells to present the classic dish in caviar style: tiranga idlis, idli sandwich and even a dum idli biriyani!