The idli rolls into the limelight on the occasion of World Idli Day on March 30

A look at the many avatars of the idli and how cooks are constantly working on it to keep pace with the change in tastes

Updated - March 30, 2024 11:37 am IST

Published - March 30, 2024 10:19 am IST

Rava idli

Rava idli

The idli was right on top of my hate list of food during school days. Once I left my hometown, it was right on top of the list I longed to eat but did not know how to make.

Idli

Idli

For many Indians, especially from South India,idli is the taste of breakfast at home. It is now going places with a day (March 30) dedicated to the plump, soft comfort food, an everyday staple in many South Indian homes.

Traditionally cooked with a fermented batter made of rice and black lentils, there are several versions of the idli in South India itself.

My mother-in-law who had her roots in Kollam district used to mix green chilli and ginger in the dough. She used to say that in her childhood, the dough was poured into a mould lined with leaves of the Portia tree.

Ramassery idli

Ramassery idli

Then there is the famous Ramassery idli made in a village in Palakkad that has now become a culinary delight. Flatter than the standard idli, the soft Ramassery idli is served with potato stew, chutney and podi. Made by a community of weavers who migrated from Tamil Nadu, they started making the idli as an alternate means of income when demand for handwoven cloth declined.

Where did the idli come from? The assumption is that Tamil Nadu is the home of the idli but Karnataka also claims it as its own. However, food historians and anthropologists believe that the idli may have come from Indonesia where something similar called kedli is still made. Whatever the origin of the idli, at present, the idli is very much Indian.

In Tamil Nadu, there is the famous spicy Kanchipuram idli and the malligai poo idli, which got renamed as the Kushboo idli. A quick Google search revealed that sabudana (sago) is used in the dough to make the idli fluffier than the usual ones. Each region has its own proportions in which the rice and lentils are to be mixed and each will swear theirs is the best.

Rava idli or semolina idli, served with sambar and green chutney

Rava idli or semolina idli, served with sambar and green chutney

Then there is the rava idli, thatte idli and many other versions of the idli in Karnataka.  The Kotte Kabudu idli is steamed in leaves of the jackfruit tree or in screwpine leaves. Instead of a mould, the dough is poured into cups made of jackfruit leaves, which gives it a different shape. A former colleague who stays in Mangalore says that it is a staple for breakfast and the leaf cups can be bought from the market.

Journalist Shree Padre says in the Konkan, jackfruit and jaggery is mixed with the idli dough to make Saandan, a kind of sweet idli. “It used to be made during the jackfruit season but now with the pulp available all around the year, Saandan can be made any time,” says Padre.

The advantage of the idli is that it can be enjoyed with several side dishes in addition to the popular ones such as sambar, varieties of chutney and podi. Idli doused with ghee and butter are also savoured by gourmands. During Deepavali, idli with mutton or chicken curry is a must in many homes in Thiruvananthapuram.

Mini idli

Mini idli

The coin-sized miniature idli soaked in sambar and garnished with ghee also has many votaries. It is also served with thick curd spiced with coconut chutney and green chill. The thayir idli (curd idli) is a delicacy in summer.

The idli has now moved with the times. Considered by physicians and dieticians as a food that is easy on the stomach and rich in nutrients, the idli has been adopted by chefs, home cooks and dieticians.

Ragi idli

Ragi idli

So, there is idli made with ragi, oats and different kinds of millets. In addition, the good old idli has been given many makeovers to suit different palates. So, there is the Schezwan idli, which comes with a mixture of capsicum, garlic, spring onion and sauces.

There is no limit to the imagination to spruce up the idli. For all we know, coming up next might be an idli doused in Italian sauce and mozzarella cheese.

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