Ode to the “idli”

So then while the rest of you were losing sleep following the presidential debates, I on the other hand was following a more interesting debate thats been trending on twitter. A british historian, tasted an “idli” – the flat, round, rice cake, which is the “go to” comfort food for any true blue south indian worth his checked lungi, and tweeted his personal opinion, that the idli was “the most boring dish in the world”

Uh-oh… Three things seem to have gone wrong on this one and lined it up square on the path of a perfect storm – 1. Nobody says anything bad about an idli, a south Indian filter coffee or the “Chennai super kings”. (2) It was a britisher who was stirring things up AGAIN, and (3) We Indians practically live on twitter, and have made it a national past time during this pandemic to argue about any and every opinion posted, on any and every social media platform.

As expected the backlash came pouring in fast and furious- Politicians, Bollywood-types, South Indians, and north Indians alike, and things literallywent south faster than you could say “Kancheepuram idli”.

I sat down on my couch and gave the whole situation a good thought and tried answering the obvious question everyone wants to hear – Why do we south indians love our “idlis” so much?

Before I go further let me just give you a few snippets on my credentials which hopefully would convince you folks that Im an authority on the subject of idlis.

I’m a chennai-ite, who’s been eating idlis from as far back as I can remember. My personal record is eating 16 idlis for breakfast at one go as a teenager. As things go, I’ve eaten idlis of every kind in my time- hard ones and soft melt-in-your mouth idlis with a variety of sides – sugar, ghee and sugar, a variety of chutneys, sambar, and a mutton kurma, and sometimes even without sides. Ive also eaten them in just about every setting, including off street carts, and in one instance also out of a police Jeep. ( more on that in another post)

So then back to the topic- why we south indians wouldnt blink twice before bartering off our Mother-in-laws for a plate of fresh Idli Vada ?

The idli embodies core south indian values- versatility. simplicity and tradition. It has a very neutral taste, but enhances the experience of the one it’s paired with. An idli is made of a fresh “rice batter”, which however after 2-3 days in the refrigerator, gets converted into a base for its slim, dusky, glamorous cousin, the “Dosa” who’s been around the block more times than you would want to agree. Lets however stick to the idli piece here though. An idli is your girl next door – quiet, low-profile, “paattu” class going-type, who makes all other side items she associates with come out looking better. She is a life-long companion, and appeals to kids and toothless geriatric, old folk alike, and has graduated from being just a breakfast item to coming out on her own at any point during the day .. or night.

Next time you pass by a South Indian Restaurant and the whiff of a fresh sambar makes you lose all control of your faculties and walk in trance-like, take my word and order a set of Idlis, make small talk with her, and order an extra serving of coconut chutney too.

Shashi Tharoor said it best though… “there are some who are truly challenged in this world. Civilisation is hard to acquire: the taste & refinement to appreciate idlis, enjoy cricket, or watch ottamthullal is not given to every mortal. Take pity on this poor man, for he may never know what Life can be.”

Well there you have it…. Long live the idli!

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