Idli platter at Roseate Hotels and Resorts
When US Vice President Kamala Harris was recently asked about her favourite Indian dishes she listed “idli, with a really good sambhar” as one of them. A few days earlier, the idli kicked up a row of sorts on social media platform Twitter, when British historian Edward Anderson responding to a question from Zomato India said that, “idlis are the most boring things in the world.” And while the idli may have its share of naysayers and advocates, it remains South India’s quintessential breakfast dish. The history of idli is just as fascinating. In his book, ‘Historical Companion of Indian Food’, K. T. Achaya says that the dish could have arrived in India during 800-1200 CE and would have its origins in the Indonesian dish ‘kedli’. Iddalige, a dish made with urad dal, yoghurt and spices finds mention in the Kannada work Vaddaradhane, written in 920 AD. And each year, March 30 is also celebrated as World Idli Day. Here are some varieties of popular idlis that must be on your plate:
The temple town of Udupi, known for its breakfast and snack dishes, has always had a cuisine that is deep rooted in its cultural ethos. The Udupi-style idli has become commonplace courtesy the numerous ‘Udupi’ restaurants and eateries that have mushroomed all over the country. These idlis are slightly coarser and are usually made using a 3:1 rice and urad dal mix where the batter is grainier. Best enjoyed with coconut chutney and Udupi sambar, this is probably the most well known idli across the country. Some of the restaurants have also devised a workaround of replacing the rice with idli rava (semolina) which adds to the grainy texture of the idli. Try the Udipi idli at Brahmins Cafe in Bengaluru, Madras Cafe in Mumbai, Roseate and Roseate House in New Delhi and Novotel Hyderabad Airport Hotel.
Located about 30km from Bengaluru, the industrial town of Bidadi is known for a soft and fluffy version called Thatte idli. Thatte means plate in Kannada and this idli is flatter and wider than regular ones and usually fermented on plates. The thatte idli batter also has sabudana or tapioca pearls that makes it soft and porous. This version is typically served with a spicy red chutney and aloo sagu, a potato curry. For the final flourish, a dollop of homemade freshly-churned butter is served on top of the idli that adds to its spongy texture. Try the Thatte idli at Renukamba Thatte Idli in Bidadi, and Dakshin at ITC Windsor Bengaluru.
An idli that has its origins in the Varadharaja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, this dates back to the 6th to 9th century Pallava dynasty. This idli is shaped like a cylinder and is cooked by wrapping the batter in traditional Mandharai leaves that give the idli a unique aroma. At the temple, each idli is about 1 to 1.5 feet tall and takes close to three hours to cook. The coarsely-grained batter has additional ingredients like sukku (dried ginger), fresh black pepper, fenugreek, curry leaves, cumin and asafoetida. Try the Kanchipuram idli at Sri Saravana Lunch home in Kanchipuram, Konkan Cafe at President Mumbai IHCL SeleQtions, and Conrad Bengaluru.
A classic idli variant from the South Canara district of Karnataka, the Kadubu is a fragrant version that comes wrapped in a jackfruit leaf cup. In fact, the cup acts like the holder of the batter that the idli is fermented in. Traditionally, the leaves of the screw pine tree were used to make this holder, but the jackfruit leaves are considered a popular alternative. The ancient scripture Mudgala Purana dedicated to Lord Ganesha also mentions the kadubu as an important offering to the deity. In fact, many temples in the region make it as an offering to Lord Ganesha. The coconut oil used to line the moulds adds to the aroma and distinct flavour. Try the kadubu idli at Kamat Lokaruchi in Ramnagara and The Creek at The Den Bengaluru.
Rava idli replaces the rice used in traditional idlis with semolina and is usually flavoured with green chilies, fresh coriander, curry leaves, fresh coconut and cashews. Served with saagu, a runny curry made of potato and vegetables and coconut chutney, there is a spoonful of ghee poured over the top to enhance its taste. The credit for the invention of this dish goes back to the time of World War II when restaurant chain Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) used semolina to make idlis, as rice would be in short supply. Try the rava idli at MTR Bengaluru and Conrad Pune.
One of the most unique idlis in India, the art of which is now being practiced by just four families in the small town of Ramassery near Palakkad in Kerala (as it calls for a secret recipe and requires specific skills to make), this particular idli uses rice sourced from Palakkad and is cooked over a muslin-covered earthen pot. The idli is also demoulded using a Plachi leaf that adds a subtle fragrance. The idlis are usually served with chutney powder made with a mix of spices and Palakkadan matta rice, Kerala-style sambar or chicken curry. The idli uses both raw rice, ponni rice and urad dal in a 2:2:1 ratio along with fenugreek to make the smooth batter, resulting in a final product that is so soft, it will melt in your mouth. Try the Ramasseri idli at Kappa Chakka Kandhari in Bengaluru and Chennai and Ramasseri Idli Hotel in Ramasseri.