The judge hrrrumphed. In deep thought, he dug deeper into his nostrils and extracted certain glutinous material which was subjected to close examination for its colour, consistency, density, fragrance and then was rolled into a minuscule sphere and stuck it to the side of his desk, presumably for further investigation. Thereupon he hrrrumphed once again, positioned his pince nez over his beaky nose and deliberately lifted a sheet of paper and pretended to read it. After an ominous pause, the judge spoke: ‘ Mr Balachandran, you have been found guilty of gluttony. By the powers vested upon me by the laws of this country, I hereby pronounce my judgment: You are condemned to survive through the rest of your life by eating only one – I repeat, one – kind of food. However, you may chose a delicacy of your wish; but remember, only ONE KIND!!
I didn’t have to think twice; how about you? what would be your choice? Chicken 65? Gulab Jamun? Parathas? Payasam? Mine is crystal clear and unwavering – IDDLI!!!
Consider the Iddli. Forget its nativity – Wiki says it is South India /Karnataka– search the net for more info. Iddli or Iddali or Idly – the safest, tastiest, blandest, most unpretentious delicacy in the whole world!
A batter made of the finest white rice and lentils steam cooked. Look at it. The demure dome of brilliant white looking so perfectly content and settled; smell it – fragrance that recalls memories of boyhood when iddli batter was spread over white cotton cloth laid on the pans inside the steaming vessel, iddlis of innumerable places – the tiny shacks in villages, those little hotels in Tamil Nadu where when you go to eat tiffin in the night, they drop piping hot iddlis with chutney, sambar, and podi. The oh-so delicious Vengaya chutney, kara chutney, Pudina Chutney and so on.
On the occasions when P is away and I have to feed myself, I buy ready-made Iddli- mavu or Iddli batter. I make exotic chutneys to go with it. The chutneys are usually so good that I end up lapping it up and the very last remnants in the bowl is swiped up by a piece of Iddli. I can make 24 iddlis from one packet. Spread over the day 8 x3 = 24. No kidding, I eat iddlis in the morning, iddlis for lunch and for supper. In the evening I sometimes warm them up in the microwave or if time and interest prevails, I make Iddli uppma. Pouring boiled water over the iddlies, I squash and squeeze the Iddlis until they are one big mashed lump. In the frying pan, instead of coconut oil, I throw in a tbsp of ghee. Over the spluttering mustard seeds, I add chopped onions, ginger, garlic, red chilli and curry leaves. Sometimes I add cubes of tomatoes, finely chopped carrots, peas… oh well, the list and combinations are endless, depending on the contents of the refrigirator and my mood.
K has left for Bangalore; Between P and I, we are not too fussy about food; we manage. Yesterday evening, there were leftover Iddlis. P said she’ll make dosas for herself, she isn’t keen as I am about Iddlis. Soaking the iddlis in the pale green coriander leaf chutney, fishing out the broken, toasted pieces of red chilli and squeezing or popping them to let the brown coconut oil and filaments of the chilli mix with the chutney and watching the mustard seeds, each with little halo of oil around it float and picking them one by one with my forefinger and biting them and savouring the whole process of idyllic Iddlis, I speak kindly to P. ‘Parvati, look at this Iddli. Chaste white in colour, soft and pliable, dignified, delicate, hygienic, highly digestible, nutritious ( all that protein and carbs), accomodative (you can add anything to it), adaptable ( goes with anything) – why, Iddli is angelic, it is the symbol of all things pure and good in this world, Iddli is what humanity should aspire to be…”
P discards the idea of making Dosas. Instead she spreads mixed fruit jam onto slices of whole wheat bread and between bites mutters- ' I will never eat another Iddli happily in my life...'
Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 07-06-2011