There are times when the tummy rumbles and grumbles. You don’t want to go in for something heavy, but are looking for that perfect snack that keeps your body light enough to keep working without feeling drowsy. So, we zero in on rava idlis.
A staple, delicious food, the rava idli has become popular in not just Karnataka but also around the world. This idli is created from roasted semolina, mixed in sour curds and seasoned with mustard and curry leaves.
After this the idli is steamed, topped with cashew nuts and served with a tangy coconut chutney, sambar or a vegetable kurma. Some versions also have tiny chopped pieces of beans, grated carrots or coconut and chopped coriander.
To find the origin of this popular dish we take off to MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms), on Lalbagh Road, which is associated with the dish for years. We meet Vikram Maiya, the Managing Partner, MTR, who narrates the history of rava idlis.
As we wait for our dish to arrive, Vikram starts, “The history of rava idly has been retold a number of times. It started off with grain middlings. When the grain is milled, whatever is left out is called semolina. We have wheat, maize and rice semolina. The story starts there. During World War II, there was a shortage of rice. It has not been documented, but my grand uncle – Yagnanarayana Maiya – who was a prolific cook, started experimenting with various ingredients and then zeroed in on the rava idli recipe. He created the recipe. It worked with curds and cashew and seasonings. The original ingredient is still used. Rava idli is now made pretty much the same way everywhere.”
Then about MTR he says, “It started in 1924 as Brahmin’s Coffee Bar. My grand uncle worked as a cook and later started MTR in 1951. The rest is all history.”
Our rava idli arrives, piping hot with a sweet and tangy potato curry, coconut chutney and a tiny bowl of melted ghee. We generously layer our cashew-topped idli with the ghee and dip it into the chutney and then the next bite into the potato gravy and there’s absolute silence for the next few seconds as we get immersed in our plates.
“The original recipe is followed everywhere,” Vikram says. “The consistency has also been followed as the recipe was written down and handed over to the cooks down the years.”
With our mouths full, we ask why it is not served with a kurma, and Vikram explains, “I personally feel the aroma and the strong masalas of the kurma kill the subtle flavours of the rava idli.”
The rava idli does indeed feel lighter on the tummy and great on your palette. “That is because it does not have urad daal or rice, making it a healthy, savoury option,” beams Vikram. As he does most of the talking, we do most of the eating. Finally crunch go the roasted cashews in our mouths, adding that grand finale to the taste and the history of the famed rava idli.