Food histories are typically accompanied by the 3Cs – Contention, Controversy and Claims. The star of the day – Idli, is no exception to this.
While there are different claims to its origin and regionality, prominent food historian notes that our Food encyclopedias namely – Vaddaradhane by Sri Shivakoti Acharya and later the Manasollasa by King Someshvara III, mention Iddalige and Iddarika respectively, however both variants used only Black gram or Urad dal, not the rice grits that form the better half (not by measure of course) of the batter ingredients.
As a result the original idli was greyish in colour and was cooked on a griddle, not steamed.
The Idli we know today is attributed more to the Indonesian influence. There were inter-marriages between Southern Indian kings and Indonesian royal families who followed the same religion and extensively traded with them. This cultural melange brought in the idea of steam-cooking idlis into the mainstream and refined the batter along the way.
[Click here for all my Idli Recipes]
Today let’s talk about its close cousin – Rawa Idli. This variant has always intrigued me and I wanted to know more.
Some years back, I visited the iconic Mavalli Tiffin Room (Lalbagh) in Bangalore or MTR as it’s popularly known, for a show shoot.
As I made my way through the teeming crowd and waited for my turn to be served, I started feeling heady by the aroma of ghee-topped Rawa idlis being devoured by the patrons around me. It was truly an effort to keep my palate nerves calm!
MTR’s third-generation co-owner Hemamalini Maiya, briefed me about its origin. History has it that during the 1940s or specifically around the World War II, there was a shortage of staples, especially rice. That created a severe challenge for people who survived on the humble idlis. According to Hema Malini, her Great Grand Uncle came up with the idea of using rava (Sooji or semolina) as a rice substitute.
The best part about it is it doesn’t need fermentation time like its older sibling. Adding buttermilk or yogurt, which is broadly and easily available helps the rawa to fluff up that makes up for the fermented touch.
The rawa idli is typically served with sagu, coconut chutney and ..wait for it, some ghee, at times topped off and others served on the side to complete the happy picture.
Rice grits or semolina, Indian or from elsewhere, Idli for me stands as yet another example of a dish beautifully adopted and adapted by our country and its cuisine.
So how are you enjoying your idlis today?