BENGALURU : When British historian Edward Anderson responded to a question from a food aggregator with this comment on Twitter, “Idlis are the most boring things in the world.”, little did he know that it would cause a furore on social media. With the likes of Shashi Tharoor commenting on it, the post has created a war of words. After his initial tweet got desi Twitter riled up, Professor Anderson tweeted, “Before the whole of south India attacks me, can I just say that I love dosa and appam and basically all south Indian food. But idli (and puttu for that matter) are insufferable.”
Idli is not just food but a heritage, a culinary legacy, believes homechef Priyanka Golikeri, who is the founder of Flour & Herbs. “It is by far one of the most affordable, most nutritious and healthiest foods available that can be eaten at any time or any day, even every day. But idli on its own (without chutney/sambar/ghee) carries a mild, subtle taste.
Hence, we almost always eat it with condiments. On its own it carries its own distinct flavour which is not overpowering on our tastebuds. Hence it might be deemed as ‘boring’; especially if not made with the right proportion of ingredients or fermented well,” she says. Agrees food blogger and consultant Monika Manchanda, who is firmly on the side of idlies. “It’s the perfect carb carrier for chutney and gravies,” she adds.
Supporting Shashi Tharoor, PC Musthafa, co-founder and CEO, iD Fresh Food, wholeheartedly agrees with his statement, ‘If the idli batter has been fermented right, it’s the closest thing to heaven on this earth!’. “Given its versatility and adaptability, idlis have continued to be the quintessential Indian food over centuries. In fact, during the pandemic, we saw a lot more people embrace the joy of idlis as they realise the nutritional superiority and convenience it brings to the table,” he says.
The dish which is vegan, gluten-free, healthy with no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and a good mix of protein, carbs and fibre has not just transcended the north-south divide, it has now become the food that appeals to the global diaspora. “Something like the idli can bring communities together and give you joy and happiness,” he says.
Manu Nair, corporate executive chef, Billionsmiles Hospitality, which owns Upsouth and Ministry of Barbeque, is disheartened about the comment but justifies the professor’s stand that he must have not tasted the right ones. “It’s one of the most popular dishes, among the likes of biryani and pizza,” says Nair, who has spent hours researching idlis – right from soaking, grinding, and steaming – to standarise it.
Fitness expert Wanitha Ashok, who can eat idlis for breakfast, lunch and dinner, takes umbrage at them being called boring. Ashok points out that the fermented dish is a natural probitoic and is a good source of protein and fibre. “Sambar, coconut chutney and podi, all of them have nutrients,” she says, adding that idlis double as a mild bleach, pack and scrub too, when used on the face.