Idlis unlimited

The man has made thousands of idlis in his lifetime. And he vows to keep making more. Idli is what he wakes up to every morning, and its batter is the last thing he sees before going to bed. Meet ‘Idli’ M Eniyavan, who will do anything for the dish. For, he says idli gave him a living and adds meaning to his life. Eniyavan runs Mallipoo Idli, a Chennai-based company that specialises in 30 varieties of idlis — he supplies to caterers at events, such as weddings. The 48-year-old has come up with over 2,000 varieties and has even attempted to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by making a gigantic idli weighing 124.8kg.

“I want to ensure that idli gets its due,” says Eniyavan, speaking on the sidelines of Hotel Ambassador Pallavas’s Idli Festival. He knows that the breakfast dish has as many fans as haters. “Some feel that idli is boring. I want to change that,” he adds. He’s constantly coming up with new varieties, sometimes with the unlikeliest of ingredients — from chocolate, and almond, to orange and corn.

For someone who started out with no experience in cooking, Eniyavan has come a long way. He hails from Coimbatore. “I dropped out of school after Class VIII,” says Eniyavan. He waited tables and washed tea glasses to earn a living and later turned an auto driver. It was a usual day at work when a customer got into his auto with a huge trough of idli batter. She was Chandra, who made idlis to be sold at small eateries in her locality. She went on to change the course of Eniyavan’s life — once she became a regular in his auto, Eniyavan started delivering her idlis.

In the years that followed, Eniyavan found his calling in idlis. “I came to Chennai with two idli andas (steamers) in 1997,” he remembers. He found a place to stay — a thatch roof house — in North Chennai and got to work immediately. “But my first batch was a failure,” he remembers. There were heavy rains that day and Eniyavan lost everything, including the batter.


Today, thousands of idlis later, he’s a happy man, having made a name for himself in the city. “I once carried idlis in a suitcase to show them to a client in Nungambakkam,” he says. “I had to travel by bus and it was the only way it would remain fresh when I reached the destination.”

Among the first of Eniyavan’s innovations, was the tender coconut idli. “I add coconut water to the batter instead of water,” he explains. “This is nothing new. My grandmother would do this when she readied batter for aapam.” Then there are the thattu and cup idlis, in which he steams batter in plates and cups. He also offers Mickey Mouse shaped idlis, and Kung Fu Panda idlis. For fussy eaters, it can be made interesting by adding just about anything. “Grind and add greens, beetroot… anything is tasty in idli form,” he says.

Most of his innovations are the result of necessity. “My children once asked for pizza,” he says. What did he do? Reach for the idli batter, of course. He steamed it in a plate and topped it with the afternoon’s leftover poriyal. Thus was born the pizza idli.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 5:41:10 PM |

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