CHENNAI: The gentle and safest food — South India’s idli — will now kindle global interest with US Senator and Democrats’ Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris speaking about the dish, opine chefs. “With the wedding catering business down during the past four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the only good news that came was Kamala Harris talking about idli,” M. Eniyavan who founded Mallipoo Idly told IANS.
“When the US Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate speaks about anything it is duly taken note of by the world. So idli may also go global sometime soon as the frozen idli concept is also being looked at,” Eniyavan added. Recently Harris said her mother Shyamala Gopalan originally from Chennai “always wanted to instil in us a love of good idli.”
Agreeing with Eniyavan was celebrity chef Damu. “Idli will surely kindle more interest in foreign countries. World over people have become health-conscious and want to have healthy and safe food, for which idli qualifies,” Damu said. Damu said during his visit to a South Indian restaurant in California, he found the majority of the customers were non-Indians.
“Indian cuisine is hugely varied and easily digestible,” he added. “After mother’s milk, idli is the safest food that can be given to a baby. When there is no sufficient milk or food for the baby owing to poverty, half an idli with a small amount of milk will be sufficient for a baby,” Eniyavan said.
For convalescing persons, idli ranks at the top as the safest food as it is ‘no oil only boil food’ and is followed by ‘Idiyappam’ and bread. Idli is made by steaming the rice-urad dal batter and there are a couple of variants.
However, now one can get fried idli also. Among the several types of idlis, the Kancheepuram idli has a special, even divine, status. It is offered to Lord Varadharaja Perumal in Kanchipuram. The other idli variants are rava idli, millet idli and the fluffy Kushboo idli named after actor Khushbu Sundar who is plump.
Similarly, Ramassery idli of Kerala – a dosa like idli – is also popular. Idli per se does not have a taste. It is the gun powder, sambar or coconut chutney that gives the taste.
“One can steam idlis in different shapes so that the kids don’t get bored. The idli batter is such that one can add carrot/beetroot/pineapple juice and make it interesting for the kids,” Eniyavan added. According to him, the idlis will taste better if tender coconut water is used while making the batter instead of normal water.
Eniyavan’s is a rags to riches story.
“Mine was a very big family. I went to school as there was a mid-day meal there. I have washed tea glasses in a bakery shop in Coimbatore,” Eniyavan said. “I came to Chennai with two idli making vessels and stayed in a thatched hut. The first lot of batter was washed off in heavy rains. From there I struggled and worked hard to come up in life,” Eniyavan said.
“I am a school dropout. But today I address students of big colleges,” he mused. “An idli festival is being planned in London. Normalcy is returning back to London, I am told. So, the idli festival is expected to happen sometime next January,” Eniyavan said.
Already there are several South Indian restaurants in many western countries serving the dish.