I add urad dal liberally. The quality of the ingredient is important as it determines the texture

Meena’s day starts at seven in the evening and she works well past midnight. Like an automated machine, she unloads the plastic pots, lights the stove and pours the rice batter into, the idli vessel. Within a few minutes, the city’s famed ‘mallipoo’ idli, is ready. The West and South Masi Street junction remains busy because of the soft idlis she makes. They fit to the sobriquet ‘mallipoo’ and attract customers like bees to the hive.

“I add urad dal liberally. The quality of the ingredient is important as it determines the texture,” Meena gives away her secret. She is successfully running her business for the past four years.

Meena had no choice but to set up this roadside eatery in order to take care of her ailing husband and her sons’ families as both the boys work in a hosiery unit in Tiruppur.

Meena learnt from her experience of running a canteen with her husband in Erode for 10 years. “It is helping me now,” she says.

She sells close to 200 idlis and 50 dosas everyday. During weekends sales are up by another 100-odd idlis and 25 dosas. She sells idlis for Rs.five a piece and a dosa comes for Rs.15. Her main expenditure is on kerosene, Rs.250 a day.

Meena packs her idlis and dosas with sambar and four different types of chutneys -- coconut, tomato, coriander and mint, besides sambar.

Right from grinding the soaked rice and urad dal and preparing two different batters for idli and dosa, she takes personal care. She takes the left over food to feed her family members.

She is always at the mercy of weather god. “My business will come to a standstill if it rains,” she says, “but I have been lucky so far.”

(A fortnightly column on men and women who make Madurai what it is)