Editor’s Note: Idiosyncrasies means An unusual individual reaction to food or a drug. Author has altered this word to suit the theme of this article
Idli – the expanded form of which could read: Indian Diet Loved by all Indians. While it is a favorite dish amongst South Indians generally, every Indian likes, why, even Americans and people in other foreign countries also like it. It is a rice cake (with urad dal,) steamed, without oil, round, white, soft like petals of jasmine, and jokingly measured in feet,like mallippoo maalai (jasmine garland). In all South Indian wedding and other functions idli is the normal, ideal breakfast, along with other items of course.
No time bar: Yes, while mostly eaten as breakfast, it could be taken as lunch, evening snack or dinner. It can be taken any time- 24 /7; my son returning home from USA on vacation, each time will ask for idli sambar or idli chutney even at 2.30 or 3.30 am. And no age bar too – could be enjoyed by children, youth, grown up adults, elderly, aged people, without fear, since it is as harmless as it is healthy and filling. Even a six month old could begin formal meals by starting with idlis.
The number game: while there is no prescribed limits, a plate of idli normally contains 2 or 3 pieces. One could take easily four, five, six and may be up to a dozen. There are often competitions in Tamil Nadu, Kerala etc., where the numbers can easily go up to thirty or forty. After all, they have to win in the competition.
Accompaniments: while normally carnatic music is not sung without accompaniments like violin, mridangam etc., idli without accompaniments could be likened to singing which has no life. Hence, to enjoy the real taste of idli, you must have the sambar, or chutney or the chutney powder.
Idli, with chutney or sambar is the usual combination. And, these ‘accompaniments’ is a must with idlis. Both are delicacies in their own ways. Talking of chutneys, there are several varieties: thengai (coconut) chutney, kothamalli (coriander) chutney, manga (mango) chutney, vengaya (onion) chutney, to mention only the most common varieties.
As for Sambar, prepared hot, in terms of red chilly content, and served hot, one could go on eulogizing on its virtues. Here again, there are varieties e.g. prepared with ground coconut, without coconut, with various vegetables – most common being bhindi, baingan, red pumpkin, tomato, drumstick and so on, or a combination of some of these. There is another exclusive or call it the deluxe variety, the vengaya (small, red onions) sambar, the smell of which will pierce your nostrils, even while entering the door of your house.
Sambar is delicious whether you mix with idli or just sip using spoons. Sometimes the sambar consumed may far exceed the number of idlies eaten. Some north Indians (I can remember some of my friends, who used to visit my house often) relish it the way south Indians would relish kheer or payasam.
There is another accompaniment for idli, the chutney powder, or the mulagaipodi (mirchi powder specially prepared for idli or dosa), this powder is generally mixed with oil and this too tastes wonderful. The real test for sambar, chutney or the mirchi powder lies in the burning ‘lip feeling’ that lingers on even after you have finished eating idlis.
Idli in lunch box:: those carrying idlis in their lunch box to office, beware. Most likely, they are gheraoed by other colleagues who would pounce on your plate and you stand to lose them all soon, as if by magic. So, it is always better to carry double the quota at least so that all colleagues can together ‘share the spoils’
Feel like going in for a hot plate of idli, chutney, sambar? Do not waste time, satisfy your appetite by whatever means. I have yet to find someone who would say ‘I don’t love idli (another expanded form of the favorite four-letter word).
This article is a part of the book “74 Not Out and some cheeky singles” written by Shri C.V. Subramaniam. He retired as Director in the Department of Information Technology, GOI and has held several important positions in the Government including the Science Advisory Council to Prime Minister. He has published 70 plus articles in various leading news papers and has published a book on Human Resource Management.