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The Great Invention, Musings

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The Great Invention

Recently I had been to UDIPI RESTAURANT of West Mambalam with my wife to cater the demands of our appetizing stomach.

Actually it was preplanned as one of our entertainment routines. We selected a table well under the fan with enough angles to have glimpse over other visitors. We were fascinated by the act of a middle aged gentleman who were engrossed in making 2 hot idlis into small pieces with spoons and pouring over the sambar liberally on the hot pieces taking care that all of them were completely immersed in the brown liquid.

He was also visibly enjoying his act with his mouth already watered. He had enough patience to wait for those few seconds until the entire pieces had absorbed the sambar to the maximum. He was devouring those delicious pieces with well orchestral spoons with his eyes radiating the level of enjoyment.

Normally when we visit South Indian hotels, we avoid idlis as they are always available at home with least effort. We also believed that it was worth while to go for Masala Dosa, Channa Bhatura and similar items rather than go for the least preferred idli. Even when our choice happened to be idli out of compulsion rather than desire we opted for sambar and chutney separately. So, for a change we were tempted to venture upon the chemistry of idli thoroughly given holy bath with that sambar having seen the testimony of its merits demonstrated by our neighbor.

In no time, we got our prey as they were ready all the time with a steaming hot look. But we had to order specifically as idli-sambar as any other way of expression would separate the couple of iddlies from token sambar and varieties of colorful chutneys. Having got our lesson tutored from the unknown DHRONACHARYA in no time we emptied the plate – but not before getting the helping of some more sambar so that all the pieces were satisfied with the holy association of that divine sambar that was spreading the smell of tiny onions all around.

Idlis are available all over India, rather globally also with a clean certificate for its harmless and easily digestible virtues. As an internet maniac one day I happened to stumble upon the medical opinion of global doctors regarding easily palatable / digestible/ harmless/ inexpensive/ nutritive/ easily and quickly prepared dish that is suitable for patients, children and also old people and felt proud that our IDLI topped the list.

Though south Indians – especially from MADRAS are affectionately teased as IDLI-SAMBAR they have popularized this noble dish by acquiring machineries and learnt the skill of preparation in their respective houses. Yes! It requires special apparatus and knowledge of mixing in the proper ratio and also enough time for fermentation by bacteria.

During my childhood and also up to middle age it was a tedious, laborious and also time consuming process to prepare this sparkling white, round shaped spongy piece of about 3 to 5 inches in diameter and .75 inch in thickness at the center. It is a 3 dimensional object, with the shape comparable to a DISCUS of the discus thrower.

Special boiled rice in 2 parts and one part of urud dal are soaked in water separately for a few hours when both of them become soft for grinding. In olden days, people used 2 stones with one large and with a pit and the other that can go freely inside the pit. Both grains are made into a paste separately with water fed occasionally until the pasted flour can just flow from one vessel to another. Both are mixed manually and salt is added to taste and the preparation is allowed to be stored overnight or about 7 to 8 hrs. Due to fermentation by bacteria it gets sour in taste and also gets its nutritive quality.

Again there is a specially designed vessel in which there are 2 to three plates with round shaped pits of 3 to 4 in each with perforations for steam to pass through. The special vessel is half filled with water, the plates are filled with the paste of flour after laying one thin cloth and arranged one above another inside and the lid of the vessel is covered tightly over.

When it is placed in the oven, the water boils allowing the steam to pass through the holes of the plate there by cooking and making the pieces soft. Nowadays there are electrically operated machines that can do the work in a few minutes and the cooking process is also made easy by pressure cookers. The specialty of its preparation is the whole cooking is purely by steam with out the involvement of oil or direct heat. All the protein, starch and other vitamins are kept intact and is only your choice to select the side dish or even with out any or with sugar in case of patients. They have also started selling idli/dosa flour ready made making it easy to prepare it in our homes in minimum time.

So far nobody could explore the history of IDLI or how many centuries back it still existed. I am of the opinion that just like the invention of ZERO by Indians in the field of mathematics MR. IDLI also deserves unique status in the world of culinary. My wife is just now tempting me with iddlies and thengai chutney! So goodbye for the time! LONG LIVE IDLIS!

Contributed By: J. PANCHAPAGESAN DSP-RETD, CHENNAI jpanchapagesan@yahoo.co.in

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