Incubation Centre at the Indian Institute for Crop Processing Technology (IICPT) here was a hub of activity on Wednesday. Hundreds of women in and around Thanjavur were busy preparing “idlis” at the centre. It was a mela organised by the Institute to create awareness among women about food processing and also to take samples for their research to standardise idli preparation for export market.

P. Senthamarai is a housewife from Madukur who participated in idli preparation. “I came to know about the mela through the newspaper advertisement. I registered myself for participating in the competition. I was given half an hour to prepare idlis. Such competitions will motivate us to exhibit our cooking talents,” she said. V. Meenakshi, from Kumbakonam, originally from Tirunvelveli, also took part in the competition. “We have a lot of food items that differ from area to area in Tamil Nadu. In Tiruvelveli, we prepare a lot of food items using rice. ‘Kootanchoru’ is one such using vegetables. Given an opportunity, Indian women will prove that they are the best in culinary art,” she said. Nearly 200 women participated in the mela.

Ajit Kumar, Joint Secretary, Union ministry of food processing who visited the institute on Wednesday said that such melas are organised to know the right kind of preparation and raw material to be used for standardised idli preparation. Although idli is the most sought-after food by all, there is no standardised preparation. Similar to pizza from Italy and other European food items which have a standardised preparation, idli preparation also should be standardised. IICPT has taken up a project for this at a cost of Rs. 2.6 crore. It will take two and a half years to complete the project after which it will provide export market for women in houses.

There are 1,100 indigenous food items which need to be standardised. The food processing ministry which came into being 21 years ago is working towards utilising food processing as a means towards economic development. Infrastructure facilities are provided by the ministry. Ten mega food parks are now coming up in the country now. Twenty more will come up in the next phase. Tamil Nadu will get one mega food park in the next phase. The aim of the mega food park is to link the farmer and food processing industry. Farmers should add value to their produce and the food processing industry should utilise it, Ajit Kumar said.