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5 Times Idli Became The National Conversation: Yay or Nay?

The viral Bengaluru restaurant that served idlis on a stick has once again brought out all the opinions. That fluffy steamed dish certainly seems to tap into some deep reservoir of ‘Idli Loyalty’ among us Indians. And who can blame us?

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At the risk of getting trolled, I’d like to begin by saying – I hated eating idli while growing up. It almost felt like punishment to me. However, with age came maturity and a certain level of acceptance towards this humble yet unique breakfast item. What about idli sparks such diverse and strong opinions?

Let’s look at a few instances when this humble food sparked intense reactions on the internet.

Idli
Which side are you on?

1. What’s in a shape?

Think idli and the mind automatically conjures up images of a circle, however, a Bengaluru based restaurant decided to get innovative and served an idli lollipop (for the want of a better word) along with chutney as dip and sambar as an accompaniment. It was Anand Mahindra who took to Twitter and sought an opinion on this innovation. Like everything else, this also had Twitter divided and both sides had rather strong arguments to make on the matter.

While some said serving idli on a stick is tantamount to blasphemy others revelled in the innovation displayed in making it.

2. Most boring food in the world?

Edward Anderson, a senior lecturer and historian who works on the history and politics and India and Britain declared on Twitter that idli is the most boring thing in the world. That was all the fire that was needed to set Twitter ablaze.

At one point, Shashi Tharoor got into the fray and said that he takes pity on the poor man, for he may never know what life can be. But it is safe to say, it had been decades since all of India was so united in their anger towards the British.

3. Inventions or abominations?

Time and again, numerous attempts have been made to infuse idli with numerous ingredients. One can only imagine what the ‘idli-innovators’ were trying to do! One user had posted about ‘Paneer stuffed Palak Idli’ while another Twitter user drew attention to an outlet where one can order for pasta idli, garlic idli and even pizza idli. Most hated the idea, but there were some brave supporters.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how each of these will taste like. But spare a thought for the versatile idli, which is able to accept all kinds of invasions, without losing its cool!

4. Ultimate power breakfast?

In an interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, Mukesh Ambani, one of the richest men in the world said that his go-to breakfast is a plate of idli-sambar. In his younger days, he would frequent a café called Mysore café and enjoyed the south Indian fare, especially the idli and sambar served there. He says that he has been a frequent visitor at the café since 1974, when he was a student.

The internet went wild the idea that India’s richest man loved India’s most humble breakfast, and many a meme declaring idli to be the secret of riches were shared.

5. Idli goes couture?

Idli
Muthukrishnan Reddy

Muthukrishnan Reddy aka Muthuswamy of the Matunga Labour Camp is the man who is called upon very frequently by the likes of Ambanis, Mittals, Ruias and even Bollywood. Known for the amazing south Indian fare that he and his team whip up, he was flown to Paris for producer Bharat Shah’s son’s wedding, where the star of the evening was not the champagne or the caviar but the humble idli.

The USP of the idlis he makes is their fluffiness. The fact that idli had reached Paris led to much amusement. Though, for the record, there were Indian restaurants in Paris already before this.

6. Idli solving hunger problems since forever

idli
Kamalathal with some of her regular local customers

Hate it or love it – you just cannot ignore this ubiquitous food. Meet Kamalathal Paati, who for the last three decades has been making and servicing idlis for just Rs 1. In the wee hours of daybreak, while others in the house are sound asleep, she wakes up and heads to her kitchen. Effortlessly manoeuvring the mammoth aatukallu (stone grinder), she grinds rice and daal for the idli batter and then goes about manually preparing up to 1000 idlis in a day. Nothing has changed in the last thirty years and even now she goes about the same routine.

To say she went viral is an understatement. After news spread of her work, literally hundreds of articles and thousands of messages went out about her. In the end, she was given a lot more resources, donations and even support to get a better house! Idli to the rescue, indeed.

So in closing – yes, that fluffy steamed dish seems to tap into some deep reservoir of feeling among us Indians. And who can blame us? While I grew up hating this breakfast food, my children seem to enjoy it with Nutella, marmite, ketchup and just sometimes – the way it’s meant to be – with sambar and chutney.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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