Not long ago, a colleague of mine inquired, “You people (referring to South Indians) eat Idlis at home but then even when you go out to eat, you order Idli and go ga-ga at the sight of it. Why? Don’t you eat them at home almost every-day?”
That was one spot-on observation which had never ever crossed either mine or my spouse’s mind. Come to think of it, living away from home in South India (I’m from Tamil Nadu and my husband is from Kerala), we have grown way much fond of Idli/dosai/pongal because it is a poignant reminder of home and tasty too! But it is surprising and funny in equal measure to find that even in Chennai, my folks, if they venture to any eatery during breakfast or dinner time, they prefer to have South Indian staples like Idli and dosai.
Growing up, I detested Idli and would frown at the sight of white, fluffy and round items.
But, gradually when I started College, I became fond of the food which in Tamizh is fondly referred to as malligai poo Idli (jasmine flower owing to the colour white). But now Idlis have started becoming popular in health foods and the colour white is often forsaken for orange (carrot), green (spinach), brown (ragi) and many such.
Idli is quite a versatile food item where the ingredients could be substituted for any other variant. Idli is also an easy-to-make food item. The morning time is the busiest for most households and Idli comes in handy – take the steamer which makes at least twelve Idlis and prepare coconut/onion/mint chutney and voila, breakfast is ready. If the Idli remains, it could be made into upma to be had with the evening tea.
I would like to think that Idli originated in Tamil Nadu, but history opines that perhaps Karnataka is the birth-place of the humble Idli. Several eateries in Tamil Nadu have popularized the Idli-sambar-vadai combination, popular ones being SaravanaBhavan and Murugan Idli Kadai; they have several branches all over the state and country so much so that one has to be the early bird to get seats during the peak morning and evening hours. Idlis in these places are served with variety of chutneys and gun-powder which is doused in gingelly oil and consumed.
This simple food that was once prepared in only South Indian homes has found a greater patronage and love through social-media and health-conscious camps. Now, almost every city has a South-Indian eatery where Idli and chutney are served.
And no matter, wherever South Indians visit, Idli-chutney-sambar is home!
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