For the love of idlis

For the love of idlis

Idli is a quintessential comfort food for many around the world

“If I could, I would have idli all day, every day! Safe to say that it’s one of my all-time favourite food items!” — Anil Kapoor, actor and producer, on Twitter.

When a true-blue north Indian like Anil Kapoor chooses idlis over parathas and khichdi as his all-time favourite food, you know that the steamed delicacy has transcended the north-south divide. When acclaimed British chef Gordon Ramsay goes gaga over idli’s smooth texture and calls it an “international dish”, you know that the simple Indian snack is destined for bigger things.

Today, there are restaurants across Europe, America and Asia that specialise in these “white moon-like rice cakes” — occasionally, with a twist. Ever tried an idli burger? How about an idli pizza? In India, of course, we have outlets serving fresh idlis just about everywhere — from roadside vendors and food courts at malls to busy railway stations and plush airports.

Changing with times

In Indian households, women often toiled with the grinding of rice and black lentils, overnight fermenting, and steaming of the batter to make those oh-so-soft idlis. Albeit, only those armed with adequate time and expertise could pass the idli-making test! Today, the process is a lot easier, thanks to powerful, yet compact grinders, modern steamers, and ready-made batter.

Given its versatility and adaptability, idlis have continued to be the quintessential Indian food over centuries. Would you believe me if I told you that idli did not actually originate in India? Food historian K T Achaya claims that it’s inspired by an Indonesian dish called kedli. During the 800-1200 CE, he says, cooks of Hindu kings in the local kingdom brought the recipe to India. There are many opponents to the theory, including those who believe that it was the Arab traders in the southern belt, who introduced idlis to the region when they settled down there.

Intensifying the debate, there is evidence from 920 AD — Vaddaradhane, writing in Kannada by Sivakotyacharya — that mentions the word ‘iddalige’ (which later became idli), say certain food historians. And then, there are others who point to early literary texts in Sanskrit, Tamil and Gujarati to identify the mystery food’s origin.

Healthy choice

Irrespective of where idli originated, the fact remains that it is one of the healthiest foods known to mankind. Little wonder then that doctors recommend them as the first solid food for babies as well as safe food to eat while battling any ailment. In fact, idli is the most nutritious food in the world and is recommended by WHO for its nutrient quotient.

With zero saturated fat and cholesterol, the low-calorie idli is high on nutrients. Rich source of carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes, amino acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals, a plate of idli is a complete meal in itself. The fermentation process adds healthy probiotics to the mix while steaming makes it weight-watchers' delight!

You cannot help, but agree with idli connoisseur Shashi Tharoor, when he says, “Always marvel at the ancient geniuses who invented this greatest of all foods…”

(The author is the director, co-founder & head of NPD, iD Fresh Food)


The famous five
Idlis come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s looking at five must-try varieties: 
* Udupi-style idli is made with a slightly grainy batter, making it perfect for those who like it non-fluffy.
* Mallige (or Kushboo) idli, popular in Tamil Nadu, gets its name from the jasmine flower because of its soft texture.
* Chettinad idli is the fluffiest of them all and is often had with meat and seafood curries.
* Kancheepuram idli is very flavourful, cooked in jackfruit leaves, instead of idli moulds. 
* Ramasseri idli is like a small, soft dosa, made in thin nets placed inside the earthen pots. It’s a speciality of the Palakkad district in Kerala.

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