Four recipes for this cousin of the idli.

It was on a new moon day that we went to Kancheepuram to taste the famed “Koil idli”. We headed straight to Sri Varadarajaperumal Temple as all enquiries about the idli directed us there. As preparations were on for the monthly utsavam, the madapalli chefs had made their regular quota of idlis encased in dried mandharai leaves, and the idlis had reached the sales counter. “It is here that this idli was first made. And the tradition has continued for long. It is one healthy, wholesome and easily digestible meal,” said Varadan, who introduced us to the chefs.

At first sight, the “foot-long” Kancheepuram Idli was different from anything we had seen. After tasting it, we decided that it was different from all other varieties of idli we had tasted (there are at least 40 versions of the regular kind of idlis). It had just the right amount of all ingredients from which the taste could be derived.

“Even if there is a small deviation from this tested recipe, the taste will change. The dried mandharai leaves in which the idlis are cooked add to the taste. If you refrigerate it, the idli will stay for more than a week,” said “Pathukadai” S. Balaji, who has been in the temple’s service for more than 35 years, and had taken over from his father Villur Gomatam R. Srinivasaraghavan.

Thirty years ago, when Balaji started his career, the idlis were sold at Rs.50 each. Today it is priced between Rs.200 and Rs.250. In hotels, the idlis are not sold as a whole but in slices as it is impossible for one person to eat a full idli.

Kancheepuram Idlis seem to be a favourite among residents as they sell fast. Among the few hotels that still continue to make the dish is the Sri Krishna Vilas Hotel on Kamaraj Street, which prepares it every afternoon by 1.00 p.m. But even here the idlis are sold out by 5.00 p.m. “We have been in the business from 1955 and for the past 15 years, we have been making them on a daily basis. Many north Indians buy it in large numbers for guests in their homes. We make about 100 plates a day,” said K. Hariharan, proprietor of Sri Krishna Vilas.

At Kanaga Vilas, the idlis are made on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. “We started making the special idlis 27 years ago. We used to make them only once a week. But due to the demand we have increased it to three days,” said S. Saravanan, son of the owner K.A. Sadhasivan. It is available between 9.00 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. The hotel serves idli slices that remind you of cassata ice-cream, along with mint chutney and idli-chilli powder. One plate is priced at Rs.17.

Saravanan took us into the kitchen to show us how the idli is made. The hotel had made special stainless steel utensils to cook the idlis to retain the authenticity of the dish. Steaming the idli takes about three hours and we had to wait at least an hour before it was cool enough to be served.

Rama’s Café, one of the very old hotels on Sannidhi Street, stopped making Kancheepuram Idli daily because of its location close to the temple. Their patrons prefer coffee and other tiffin items.

Each hotel, household and individual seems to have a different recipe for the Kancheepuram Idli, which seems to take on many avatars. The taste also differs due to the different processes and methods. The fisherfolk of Nathampet near the town gave us a recipe for a thaalikara idli in which they add tempered urad dal, kadala paruppu (Bengal gram), curry leaves and coriander leaves to the regular idli batter along with asafoetida. “You must ensure that the batter is slightly more sour than usual for the right taste,” explained Mahadevi, an inland fisherwoman.

The Recipes

SRI VARADARAJAPERUMAL TEMPLE RECIPE

(To make 10 idlis)

Ingredients

Raw rice 2kg, Urad dhal kg, Methi 25gm, Pepper 100gm, Jeera 100gm, Dry ginger 100gm,

Asafoetida, Curry leaves, Ghee 800gm, Salt

Method: Soak the rice, urad dhal and methi for an hour. Grind to a rough consistency. Add salt and leave overnight. In the morning, add pepper, jeera, dry ginger, asafoetida (all without tempering), sautéd curry leaves and ghee. Mix well and cook.

It takes about an hour to cook.

At home, in a cooker it may take only 15 minutes. Place pieces of mandharai leaves on the idli tray and then pour the batter.

KANAGA VILAS RECIPE

Ingredients

Idli rice 2.5kg, Urad dhal 1.25kg, Raw rice 600gm, Methi 50gm, Gingelly oil, Jeera, Pepper, Dry ginger powder, Cashew nuts, Curry leaves, Salt, Asafoetida

Method: Soak the rice, dhal and fenugreek seeds for two-three hours and grind to a coarse texture. Keep for 12 hours. Temper pepper, jeera, curry leaves, cashew nuts and add to batter. Steam it.

RAMA’S CAFE RECIPE

Ingredients

Equal portions of raw rice and boiled rice, Urad dhal, Cashew nuts, Jeera, Pepper, Curry leaves, Salt, Dry ginger powder

Method: Soak the rice and urad dhal for four hours and grind. Leave over night. Add salt in the morning. In hot ghee, sauté jeera, cashew nuts, pepper, curry leaves and add to the mixture. Make idlis.

SRI KRISHNA VILAS RECIPE

Ingredients

Raw rice 1/2 kg, Boiled rice 1/2 kg, Urad dhal 1/2 kg, Methi 20gm, Ginger 50gm, Jeera 25gm, Pepper 25gm, Dry ginger powder 1/4 tsp, Salt, Asafoetida

Method: Soak for two hours and grind coarsely. Add salt and ferment overnight. Add ginger, pepper, jeera, dry ginger powder, fried cashews, asafoetida. Mix well and steam.