World Idli Day: Of space idlis and the cost of idlis around the world

World Idli Day: Of space idlis and the cost of idlis around the world

“Saare jahan se achchaa” -- many can recall the famous words relayed back by Rakesh Sharma in April 1984, when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked the first Indian astronaut in space about how India appeared from where he was. But few can remember what Sharma ate while he spent seven days in space.

“We had prepared a variety of food items for him, including peas pulav, rabadi, chicken pulav and mutton kheema”, said K. Radhakrishna, head of Freeze Drying and Food Technology Division at Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), speaking with The Hindu.

We have come a long way since and Radhakrishna and a few others scientists in the country have done the impossible. A few years ago, they created space idlis.

No, not the kind of cakes and edibles served at a cafe in Amsterdam that will figuratively take you to space. Scientists at the DFRL lab in Mysore have made tiny, coin-sized moisture-free idlis, with the shelf life of a year.

Therefore, when the day comes that India picks its next astronaut for a manned space mission, he or she can break away from the monotony of their regular space menu with idli sambhar. The scientists also have other tricks up their sleeves, including space biryani, space yoghurt and space rasgullas!


“It is the perfect snack...and the cost, though I haven’t calculated it precisely, is minimal: Rs 8 or 10 for a pack,” said Anil Dutt Semwal, senior category F scientist at DFRL, while discussing space idlis in an article published in Open Magazine.

Paying Rs 8 or Rs 10 for a pack of specially prepared space idlis, even without the imprecise calculations, is truly astounding, considering the intricacies involved in the manufacturing. But an equally astounding fact is the variation in costs of idlis around the world.

Based on analysis applied by Anirvan Ghosh in a 2015 article he wrote for HuffPost where he compared dosa prices at different international Saravana Bhavan outlets around the world, here’s the idli price index:

 Location  Cost in local Currency In Rupees Converted)
 New Delhi  ₹114  
 Chennai  ₹39  
 London  £2.75  ₹251.57
 Frankfurt  €4.9  ₹392.64
 New York  
$7.99
 
₹520.07
Dubai
 
د.إ 8
 
₹141.77


For those wondering what possible benefit can one accrue from learning about the price of Idlis around the world?

Well for one, comparing prices of single food items between countries is a common technique used by economists to explain differences in exchange rates between countries.

The Economist’s Big Mac Index which measures the purchasing power parity (PPP) between nations using the price of a McDonald's Big Mac as the benchmark is the most prominent example.

And for another, comparing prices of Idlis; Rs 5 for 3 in our local Indira Canteen versus Rs 520.07 for 3 in New York’s Saravana Bhavan, if nothing, is food for thought on World Idli Day.  

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