An Idli a day!

An Idli a Day!

By Anand Kumar R.S

30th March, we were told is being celebrated as “World Idli Day”! Meaning, for the world, 30th March is Idli Day! For South Indians in general and Tambrahms in particular though, every day is Idli Day you see! As Nanu mama said, “Ithellam marketing gimmick! Valentine’s Day, Women’s Day, Mother’s Day madiri! Namakku every day is Idli Day!” And he is probably right. “The” Idli is intertwined so much in the life and IDentity of a Tambrahm!

 A day in the life of a Tambrahm is not complete without a brush with Idli! Usually the day starts with Idli as the breakfast.  Not only that, apart from having Idli for breakfast, I know of households who have again slight variants of the Idli for evening along with Kaapi and then for dinner as palahaaaram.

“Idli steamed o illiyo with no much oil,… Athanaala romba safe!” is the usual refrain which we can hear from Tambrahms who pour scorn on North Indians having oily paranthas for breakfast. “Eppadi thaan kaalan kaarthala ippadi oily itemsaa thingaraalo?? Namakku Idli thaan sari. Vayathukku onnum pannaathu”!

While Idli itself is a plain simple item made of rice, what makes it special is, what it is consumed with.  Tambrahm mamas who usually fuss around too much about food and the lack of variety every day, are more charitable as far as Idli is concerned. As long as Idli is served with different items to go with.

At a basic level, the day when the mami is in no mood to entertain the mama and kids so much, Idli is made and will be eaten with the already made Molaga Podi mixed with nalla ennai aka Gingelli oil! And the nalla ennai is poured over the Idli as well to taste!

At a next level, Idli is taken with Chutney. Here the options are many, starting with white Coconut Chutney, Tomato/Onion Chutney, Green Chutney,..,…

On a particular day, if the mami decides to finish the cooking in the morning early, then one can have the baakiyam of having Idli for breakfast with Sambhar which can be then used for lunch as well with rice!  Idli with Chutney “and” Sambhar is usually the combination for Naallum, Kizhamaiyum!

At many Tambrahm households I know of, Sundays are usually Idli with Chinna vengaaya Sambhar.  I have heard that mamas feel like going to sorgam and coming back when they get an opportunity to eat hot Idlis with hot Chinna vengaaya Sambhar served with dollops of ghee.

Now, here’s the thing as a matter of critical detail. If you eat the Idli dipped in Sambhar served separately in a kinnam, it is Idli Sambhar. But, if you take a bowl of Sambhar and soak the Idli in it and eat, it becomes Sambhar Idli!  Usually left over Idlis of the morning along with left over Sambhar of afternoon – becomes tasty Sambhar Idlis for evening tiffin!

When you see somebody pouring Sambhar over Idli, one gets a doubt if Idlikku thottukka Sambhar aa illa Sambharukku thotukka Idliyaannu!!  And one cannot miss sharp mamas’ quips like, “Paiyyan sambharla paatthiya kattaratha paatha, engineera thaan varuvaannu thonrathu!”

Before the IRCTC era, train journeys or road trips (read as temple visits) were never complete with Idlis being part and parcel of the trips literally, I mean. A separate koodai accompanied these trips with eco-friendly disposable packets of Idlis. And here’s the twist. To save time and the mess of eating Idlis with Chutneys or Sambhar (which may get spoiled in the heat) while on travel, Idlis are usually packed with Molaga podi and ennai already applied on them. So white Idlis become slightly Orangish in colour with liberal dose of nalla ennai. “Konjam ennaiya dhaaralama vittukko, nenja pidikkaama irukanum!” This Idli with pre-mixed Molaga podi becomes “Podi Idli”! Have you ever tried having a sip of hot, filter coffee right after eating this Podi Idli, with the taste of Idli mixed with the Molaga podi still lingering on the tongue?? If not, please try that tomorrow!

“Idli, malli poo madiri irukku!” can be the ultimate compliment which is when the Idli is soft, pure white in colour and has a nice aroma around it!” However ask any mami and she would say, “Aamaam, kudikarathu ennamo Aquaguard thanni. Aana Idli mattum  malli poo madiri irukanum!!!”

Coming to Tambrahm obsession with the Idli, though we eat Idlis probably 365 days of an year at home, when we go out to eat at restaurants,…, the 1st choice of most mamas is most likely to be “Oru plate Idli Sambhar”!

In Tambrahm households, it is also common for parents to serve Idlis with Thayir and Chakkarai mixed for kids. “Thayir vayathukku nallathu. Eriyaama irukkum!” Our elders were abreast of all this probiotic stuff even then! But what usually starts as a childhood habit continues even after growing up.

Even Doctor mamas have a special affinity for Idlis. Usually, when we used to go to our neighbourhood family doctor for common ailments like fever, stomach upset,..,… the doctor usually advised, “Usual pre-cautions and “Idli madiri safe food da saapadalaam”!

In order to cater to the daily intake of Idlis at home those days, mamis usually arachufied maavu every alternate day even during the pre-grinder days!  In grinder days, more than the effort involved in aruchufying, the effort in cleaning up the grinder after the act was more taxing! Ithukku okkaandhundu araikarathe thevala! But today for the young generation, ready-made, Off the shelf maavu has come as a god sent relief. Only thing is, with the ready-made maavu one cannot be cock sure of the output!  Leading to jibes like this:

Mami:  “Innikku enna aachunnu theriyala! Konjam Idli flataa vanthuduthu!”

Guest Mama: “Idli saaptu naanga flataa aagaama iruntha sari!”

So, with the Idli even small travesties are not tolerated, you see!

The other bigger travesty of the Idli, is the invention of different varieties of Idlis in the name of fast food! From Idli Manchurian to Chinese Idli to Masala Idli to Hara bara Idli, …,… have all mushroomed much to the dismay of the Idli connoisseurs! For them, Idli is only one. Which is simple, steamed and safe! So for them, it’s not “Idli Day” but at least “an Idli a day”!!!

Picture courtesy: Pinterest

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12 thoughts on “An Idli a day!

  1. Interesting piece RSA .. Some more popular variants…in Karnataka, Thatte idli with gatti chutney is a treat, the button idlis soaked in sambar and healthier variants like ragi idli and ofcourse the delicious rava idli …😋😋😋

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Suri says:

    Wonderful topic and excellent description Anand. Idli is inseparable from us. Many time favourite would be the combinations, such as idli vadai. Since idli is more often made than dosa, as kids we used to ask for dosa more. But health conscious adults turn back to idli again. It’s amazing that idli Milagai podi stays fresh even the day after, great asset as travel companion. Good work

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PS Kannan says:

    LoL….Superbly written..Mouth-watering & Satiating at the same time!!!
    Now..u n other comments have compelled me to add to this dish….
    Growing up, I remember, as kids we were driven to frustration at the sight of Idlis…due to the amazing regularity in which it used to find it’s way to our plates..irrespective of Nallum.Kizhamaiyum…However after lvng home and serving in many parts of the country the love story with Idlis bloomed again..gingerly…..
    If at all it was still a rarity after marriage in our kitchen it was due to non-availability of correct rice/chilly weather etc in the areas we were posted in..(Fauji..after all!!)
    Slowly (after marriage) carrying a few Kgs of Ponni (saappattu) rice on our return trip fm Chennai became the norm…Idlis were somehow made with commonly available rice in the North..i think we used to use ‘Parmal’ rice..The final outcome used to be a hit n miss affai….with idli quality, grinding technique, weather ,mixing technique,timing etc..being the variables whivh had definite effect on the outcome..Mallippoo or Cannonball!!
    But then there were enough eager mouths to savor them at home when we used to occassionally make over weekends with a large horde of bachelor-officers making merry..with the Idli-Sambar/Sambar-idli options from this Madrasi household…So Butterfly Grinder finally did a journey by Indian Railways to Kutch..in the year 2K…..obviously to make the job easier for the Lady….After all how much can a simple Mixer-Grinder do to meet the Bfast requirement of 12-15 heads on a lazy Sunday..I realised that with the advent of heavier grinder and a shoulder pain issue of my wife ..my duty in the idli making process at home became Always’ fm ‘At times’!!!
    ….I see history repeating itself..now with both kids grown up..one in college and other working..Why Idli has become such an important item in our bfast menu….let aside the health & harmless aspects..It’s sheer convenience of dishing it for 2-3 days and with minor changes in the accompaniments..(Thottukka!) boredom is kept away…..Most importantly, the lady doesnt have to break her head for deciding the Bfast menu…for 2-3 days!!!
    …..Ooops..This ‘Idli’ has bought out a lot …out of me…
    (Psst…Had MTR ka Ready Mix Ragi-Rava Idlis for Bfast today..The twist was adding grated coconuts,green peas & coriander leaves..Not exactly Mallippoo but still awesome!! )

    Liked by 1 person

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