Bhagyalakshmi Ammal is one of a few who possess the skill to dish out the idli

When she was married off into a remote village in Palakkad at the age of 16, Bhagyalakshmi Ammal from Tirupur in Tamil Nadu had no clue that she would soon inherit the recipe and skill to prepare a kind of idli that tasted exquisite and had a history of over a century. Now 65, Bhagyalakshmi Ammal runs one of the two tiny restaurants where the famous Ramassery idli is available.

A widow with five daughters, she believes the king of idlis would soon be part of lore as the people who prepare it in Ramassery village are fast dwindling. A means of sustenance for the village till a couple of decades ago, the idli is available in only two restaurants, including Ms. Bhagyalakshmi’s.

Village elders say Ramassery, where the Mudaliyar community is in a majority, has only four families that still possess the skill to prepare the idlis.

None of Ms. Bhagyalakshmi’s daughters have the skill, and she believes her shop, an all-woman initiative, would become part of history once she leaves the profession. The shop has been in existence for three generations and was inherited by her late husband from his parents.

With the help of her aide Devi, Ms. Bhagyalakshmi has been running the shop for the past 27 years. She sells over 500 idlis a day

What makes the Ramassery version of the idli stand out? Ms. Bhagyalakshmi and the others make idlis the same way their forefathers from Tamil Nadu did. The batter is prepared using rice, black gram, fenugreek, and salt. Asked about the taste, she says it owes to the way the idli is prepared. Unlike other idlis, Ramassery idlis are a trifle flat, and look almost like a mini dosa. “Even now, famous personalities reach the village to relish the idli,” says Kuppandi Muthaliyar, a village elder.

Few returns

Ms. Bhagyalakshmi says it is not a profitable venture as one idli fetches hardly Rs.4. “We make them twice a day, depending on demand. On some occasions, we get bulk orders from hotels, weddings, and other functions. On such occasions, I employ extra labour but prepare the idlis myself,” she says. “I learnt how to prepare the idli from my mother-in-law, but now I have become an authority on it,” she says.

Located close to Palakkad-Coimbatore highway, her shop gets occasional visitors from outside, who come after reading about the famous idli. The idlis are still prepared in traditional stone vessels using tamarind wood for fire.

Jeevanantham, who runs the other shop in the village, also believes the idli tradition will not withstand the challenges of time.

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