His menu suits taste buds of all

He proposes to add ragi and corn to idli to suit needs of diabetes patients

Ordering a plate of usual idli is not a big deal. However, if someone brings a  50-page menu card only for idly varieties, it will be mind-boggling exercise to choose from it.

The humble rice pancake, famously called idli in South India, has hit the headlines courtesy Iniyavan who has dished out more than 1,000 varieties of this dish in various shapes and sizes to attract large number of customers. The idli vendor has carved a niche for himself.
The 45-year-old Iniyavan, who thought why idly should be only in round shape, gave a squirm to the traditional, soft, bulge, white savoury cake by adding various flavours to it like almond, pista or pistachio, vegetables, chocolate and fruits.

Claimed to be harmless food, it covers a wide range of shapes like triangle, rectangle, hexagon, pentagon, star and even heart. They come in various combinations and flavours too – to name a few, pizza idlis, tooty fruity idlis, chocolate idlis, coconut idlis and grape idlis.

Iniyavan tryst with idlis began in 1997 when he came to Chennai with dreams of making it big. Since, he did not own even a bicycle at that time, the idli maker used to write letters to owners of marriage halls and caterers for orders. He would make idlis in marriage halls and serve them piping hot.

Iniyavan’s gamble paid off and his fame spread and it started making it to the plates of celebrities. Not to rest content with this, he started experimenting and making innovate idlis with orange and even apple juice and in various shapes like dinosaurs and ducks. “I thought why idli should be only in round shape. Then, I started making innovations, which was well received by the people,” Iniyavan said.

A school dropout, Iniyavan was brought up in a poor family near Coimbatore and came to Chennai with a lot of hope, having some experience in making idlis. “My first idli order went in vain since I could not deliver just 25 idlis to a hotel due to heavy rain,” he recalled. 

As his business slowly improved, he started delivering his innovative idlis to marriage functions, which were received well. “Plate idli was my first attempt. My second try was vegetable stuffed idly,” he said. “Initially, I made just 50 varieties of idlis. I slowly started making more than 1,000 varieties in a span of just three years,” he added.

He has menu for different seasons. “In summer, I make idli mixed with coconut water, which cools the body. If Palmyra Palm (Nungu in Tamil) mixed with idli, it will also cools the body,” he says. For winter, he has several varieties, including dates idlis, badam idlis and pista idlis, which, he claims, will keep the body warm. His most recent experiment was bitter-gourd idlis and pudina-chutney stuffed idlis.

Armed with trademark slogan “No Oil Only Boil”, Iniyavan also attempted to create a world record by making more than 1,000 different types of idlis recently.

People thronged the venue to have a glimpse of different shapes and colourful idlis which were showcased. Different shapes and sizes of idlis, which included Indian flag, cartoon characters--Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Popeye--impressed the large number of visitors. Iniyavan along with a team of about 20 people worked for two days to prepare 1,000 different varieties of idlis. “I showcased a total of 1,328 idlis at the expo,” he said.
His friends laughed when he claimed “my next record will be to display 10,000 idlis”.

“People laughed at me when I earlier said I will make more than 1,000 idlis,” he recalled. When Iniyavan saw many parents found it difficult to feed vegetables to their kids, he gave another twist to his innovation. “I took high nutrient vegetables. I crushed it and mixed with idli batter to make rich diet by also adding little chocolate flavour, which was well received by children,” he said.

“On Valentine’s Day, I usually get orders for heart-shaped idli with mango taste,” he said. In 2013, Iniyavan’s attempt was recorded by the Limca Book of Records when he made a single idli that weighed about 128.4 kg and exhibited about 130 varieties of idlis in different flavours, shapes and sizes. “It is not easy to cook this huge idli, since it consumes more time to steam it. Moreover, the heat has to be uniform,” he said.

He quoted “India Breakfast Habits Study”, a survey conducted in four metros in India, which found that Chennai has the best breakfast of three idlis, a bowl of sambhar and a tumbler of filter coffee is the “nutrient profile” in the country. According to him, Idli contains carbohydrates, fats, proteins, enzymes, amino acids and fibre. 

Interestingly, from this year onwards March 30 will be observed as World Idly Day. The idea is mooted by the Tamil Nadu Cooking Welfare Association (TCWA) together with Iniyavan. Why March 30 should be observed as World Idli Day? Because Iniyavan’s birthday falls on that day and it was quite obvious that it selected the date to honour him.
How Iniyavan makes various shapes at quick time? He makes his own idli plates from teflon coated material. The non-stick coated plates will help to maintain the original shape of idli even when it is removed from the oven. He also employs people from poor family background.

Another interesting aspect of his innovation is that Iniyavan is on the verge of introducing idlis for diabetes patients. “I will be adding ragi and corn to idly, which will be good for sugar patients,” he said.

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