Monday, August 27, 2007


This morning I was wondering what it is about the idli that I dislike it so much. Is it the endless rounds of preparation? Soaking, grinding, fermenting and THEN cooking? Or is it the idli's inherent frailty as a dish to stand on its own? Its constant dependency on something more pungent to support it? Or is it the idli's inoffensive, non-threatening, bland nature that it's suitable only for those under 2 or anyone recovering from a particularly unpleasant illness? I don't know. All I know is that I have never taken a liking to the steamed rice cake - the English description doesn't quite fit, does it? A bit like Pattu mami in pant-shirt, not right at all!

And there's more. Idlis are fussy old things. No ordinary pans would do. It'd have to be a special perforated idli plate. And it has to be cooked only for so long. Any more or any less and it's a toss up between rock and raw batter for breakfast. Idlis remind me of that ugly cousin who insisted that the girl he marry meet a 101 conditions. You just want to ask him to shove it and get on with it!

And it doesn't stop there. There's this whole side-business of chutnies and sambar to accompany the idli. After all, you can't serve the idli on its own!

Yet, there I was on the first morning of a bank holiday weekend, soaking three portions of idli rice to one of whole ulutham paruppu. Adding a teaspoon of vendayam. Returning in the evening to grind them to a smooth, lump-free batter. Seasoning with salt and tucking the half-full pot into a corner in the boiler room. Waking up in the middle of the night to see if there was enough room in the pot for the batter when it doubles in volume. And wondering, not for the first time, why I even got started.

I'll spare you the rest of the agonising steps in this recipe. The end result was less than fluffy and would rate about 6 on a Saravana Bhavan idli scale. Still, when we stuffed our faces with idlis and molagapodi and washed it down with a glass of buttermilk, I sensed smug satisfaction spread all over my being. For a brief while, I felt like an ideal wife. One who feeds her family idli for breakfast, not dried cereal or worse, bread! I felt one with all my sisters back in India and elsewhere who follow the idli ritual every week. It was an inexplicably deep connection. I even resolved to ask my idli-making friends for tips on how to better the batter.

I would be lying if I said that I dislike the idli less now. My distaste for it remains just as strong. But an idli every six months or so shouldn't hurt. Unless I dropped it accidentally on my foot and broke it - the foot, not the idli.

cross posted at chaipani


Space Bar said...

I love idlis but only if my mum makes them. This morning, I had the sad task of making thengai chutney to go with the idlis and I felt like screaming at the end of it.

Needless to say, it didn't turn out like mom makes them (who invented that harrible phrase?). When she's away I love bread.

Anonymous said...


Premalatha said...


I luv idlies. :-) perfect partner is coconut chutney for me. tomato chutney/kothsu or aubergine kothsu are the other partners I like.

I make idly often. But I make them for dinner. not for breakfast. In fact I used to make it every week when I was commuting heavily, since the preparation time/effort for dinner after a tiring day was so easypeasy, I just loved making it. I used to prepare the batter during weekend, keep it in the fridge (after it fermented, keeping it outside (not in the boiler room) ), then make idly or dosai for dinner during weekdays. easy peasy. Looks like I (and balan as well) have gained good experience that my idlies aren't that bad. I do not use 3:1 or rice:ulundhu, but 8:1, and yes with little fenugreek.

Premalatha said...

The way you have described it was very enjoyable. That is what I meant by LOL comment.

Shammi said...

bwahahaha.... but I still love idlis, all the same! :)

Unknown said...

This.... ! From a blogger who has her own cookery page! Well... Am like Hema Malini. I love idlis. Made a batch or two today.... For avaniyavattom breakfast!
I do without all those extra tasks these days, as the grocery downstairs sells freshly ground Idli Maavu! ( hahahaha... I am sure Hema Malini never ground the idli batter either!... Am no Dream Girl...nor are my idlis made of stuff dreams are made of... but we manage!)

D LordLabak said...

Same (dislike) here. When there is dosai, why would anyone go for idli? Its the same batter. But I still make it for my son and wonder if my mother felt the same way when she made idlis for us in the mornings.

The Visitor said...

Ah idlis... there's nothing like them! The ratio of rice: ulundu (5:1), venthayam optional. I prefer the grinder to the mixie for grinding the batter. (Grinding using the mixie sometimes overheats the batter and the batter sometimes doesn't ferment well.) Nothing as satisfying as seeing a well puffed up fermented batter in the morning. Yes, the brinjal kothsu is a favorite as is vengaya sambar made to a watery consistency. Another favorite accompaniment is a kothsu type preparation using potatoes, brinjal and tomatoes. Having (Idhayam) gingelly oil along with the kothsu or sambar is a must.

Dosais? - hmpf.

The Visitor said...

I can (preferably must) have idlis on all days of the week with assorted accompaniments - simple idli podi, the extremely simple kadalai chutney (grind just a handful of fried gram with a couple of dry chillies to watery consistency and season), thengai chutney, kothumalli chutney, thakkali chutney (fried gram, dry chilly, sauted onions and tomatoes with a hint of kothumalli ground together and then seasoned), assorted sambars, assorted araitha kuzhambu's (notably thakkali or potato[?]), assorted kothsus.

Variety is the spice of life - idli gives variety with simplicity.

Anonymous said...

I'm a dosai fan myself...but idlis are great for that lazy sunday night palagaram.

Oracle said...

Idlis aside...a funny, flawed, gorgeous write-up after quite a while.

Another serving please! :)

Sunita said...

Oh me too .. I dislike Idlis and I attributed it to having to dig my teeth into the Idli itself. And if the surface has a little bit of watery surface because of the steam ... total gross ..I cn't even look that way ...unless I have no choice absolutely :)

Bhel Puri & Seekh Kabab said...

Call me weird, but my favorite "thottu-karudu" (aka side-dish)for idlis is payasam.

Specifically, the jaggery kind.

Call it 'chakra-pongal' as they do in Tamil Nadu or 'vella-payasam' as in Kerala, the non-taste, spongy texture of the idlis, combined with the sweet taste, crystalline texture of the payasam, makes for a great combination. The fried coconuts were the icing in this funnel cake.

Idlis & Nei Payasam

Sunita Venkatachalam said...

Another idli hater like me ! yay.

smilie said...

Idlis with ghee and sugar is an excellent combination.I feel there is no other side dish required at all.

cerebral non-matter said...

"For a brief while, I felt like an ideal wife. One who feeds her family idli for breakfast, not dried cereal or worse, bread!"

This struck a nerve somewhere deep within. As an Indian wife who serves ONLY ceral or bread (if at all), I suddenly feel deeply ashamed.

It's not even that I dislike idly (despite its dependence on side dishes to qualify as a complete meal). It just seems like it might be SO difficult to make, especially in the ungodly hours of the morning!

On an unrelated note, I have taken the liberty of linking you on my blog. I hope you don't mind, because I really really LOVE your blog!