Idli: A Love Story

October 12, 2012 at 9:15 PMOct (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

“Ek khaao na…” a friend insisted even after I said “No” when he first asked me to have one idli from his plate. “Kyun?” came the question…

Why is it that I avoid eating idli? Its not that I hate idli. But yes, for long I did hate idli, with all my heart…

When I was young, though a rebellion, I used to be very scared of my father. Very much.  I had a very troubled relationship with my father. But because I was very scared of him I felt helpless before him and my rebellious nature would vanish in front of my father. The fact that I was helpless and that my rebellion vanished before my father made me even the more rebellious, though only in his absence… In those days my dislike for idli began… The connection? First of all I did not like its taste. Taste? I always felt idli doesn’t have any inherent taste. So yeah I hated its tastelessness. But my father liked and still likes idli a lot. So much so that on his birthday my mother prepares idli. No cake business. Only rice cake. So yeah, coming back to the story… There is this restaurant in Udupi named Mitra Samaj. That is my father’s favourite hotel in Udupi. So whenever we used to go to Udupi my father used to take us to Mitra Samaj. No brownies for guessing that the idli is the most famous item at Mitra Samaj (this was before the outlook dosa made its mark at MS). So everytime we went to Mitra Samaj dad placed an order for four plates of idli sambar. One for himself. One for my mother. One for my sister. And… one for me!!!

What could be more traumatic for a small boy that this: to be made to eat a tasteless thing without being able to rebel against the man who is making you eat it and against the choice made against his own taste!!! Idli played a small but crucial role in distancing me from my father further by fueling the already troubled relationship between us! Thus began my traumatic relationship with idli… What was the easiest way of expressing anger against one’s own helplessness? Punishing oneself, the innocent mind thought, in sheer helplessness. I ate idli silently in complete anger without expressing it. If not anything the anger made chewing of idli a bit easy…

Though I find this funny now looking back at it there is one particular incident which still pinches me somewhere. Idli is an important character in this incident which is why I am speaking of it. It was Ganesh Chaturthi and we were at Byndoor. That was the ritual. Every year Ganesh Chaturthi would be celebrated in my grandparent’s place. This was when I was in class 8, I guess. By then my relatives were very well aware of my short temper, my fear for my father and also about my dislike for Idli. On that particular Ganesh Chaturthi I was hurt by something and as a result angry about something. Because of my father’s presence I couldn’t vent my anger in any which way. I was in no mood for lunch but was forced to come for lunch by my aunt. I went and sat with a plantain leaf. Several dishes was served. I said a strong “NO” to every dish that kept coming. By then every relative there got to know that the angry young boy is angry over something. But nobody had said anything till then. But then when idli was being served I knew how to vent my anger. Not my anger towards that which hurt me but towards my helplessness of not being able to express my anger. I asked for idli. More idli. More idli. One by one every relative burst into laughter by the dramatic tone with which I kept asking for more and more idli. People around me laughed. I ate more. The laughter continued. I ate more idli. I ate every piece of every idli that was served on my asking for it. The laughter continued. By the end of it my anger was not for my helplessness but for the fact that nobody there seemed to understand that I was hurt and I was angry. I felt nobody there understands me. To make it worse everyone laughed. I felt humiliated and more painfully distanced because nobody understood. For years to come this incident became a joke among my relatives and every time it is recollected, though I laugh, it pains me because nobody ever understood that a young boy was punishing himself in his helplessness of not being able to express his anger when hurt. How did the boy hurt himself? By eating idli- the food that he disliked with all his heart.

This incident took my relationship with idli from dislike to hatred.

For years from then I avoided eating idli. Because I had managed to scare my mother with my anger she prepared something else at home, for me, the day idli was prepared. Going to Udupi had become an independent affair for me. So I never went even in the direction of Mitra Samaj.

After several years I had to move away from home and hometown. The capital city invited me with open arms. With aaloo in one hand and paneer in another hand. Imagine a boy from a small town in south India, for whom rice is the staple food, going to a place like Delhi and shifting his eating habits completely to wheat dominated menu. Morning breakfast: puri, bathure and siblings. Lunch and dinner: chapathi, roti, naan and siblings. Those days I understood why some of my friends in Manipal, who had come from the north, complained about “naarial” being a part of every damn food item in Manipal. Because I too was wondering why paneer had to be in every food item. If not paneer, it was aloo. Or worse, both together. Coming back to the main story… the domination of wheat on my plate made me crave for rice. I ate rice at time. But that was for lunch and dinner. But breakfast also demanded a break. What could I eat. To break the pattern initially I ate french toast. But it would not satisfy me completely. Then I moved to dosa. But the taste of it was not authentic. Couldn’t continue with it for long. The last resort was IDLI!!! Yes, I went for it. When in Rome not just be a Roman but also eat Roman food. Idli and I could never become friends, I felt. Tastelessness had reached great heights for a person who, though reluctantly, in a distant past, had tasted some authentic idli. My relationship with idli was completely spoilt. I went back to puri and bature. But never tried eating anything that was not a part of the Delhi food culture. Delhi managed to push me away from Idli even when I made an attempt to do fraaandship with it.

When I returned to Manipal from Delhi, submitting my M.Phil, I became friends with one of the most lovable humans I know. Nayani Sandeep. He was a student in the very same institute where I had studied and worked. A foody by nature, Sandy, was a huge fan of Mitra Samaj, their goli baje and their idli!!! So lovely is Sandy that there are hardly a few times that I do not listen to him. So when he asked me, for the first time, if I would join him to Mitra Samaj I could not give an answer in negative. Sandy took me back to Mitra Samaj. He introduced me to a new kind of idly called bullet idli. Small small idlis of bullet size dipped in sambar. Reluctantly I agreed to eat it for the first time as it was Sandy who was asking me to taste it once. Result: for the first time in my life I enjoyed idli, in the company of Sandy. Probably I liked it because the experience at Delhi had made me respect idli, though I did not like the Delhi idli.

After our first visit, Sandy and I became good friends. With that our visit to Mitra Samaj increased. With frequent meetings and frequent visits my love for idli increased. My troubled relationship with idli was being resolved. Sandy played the cupid. As Sandy got closer to my heart Mitra Samaj and idli too got closer to my heart. A life long troubled relationship was resolved. I started eating idli at home whenever my mother prepared it. That saved my mother from preparing two different items for breakfast whenever idli was being prepared. Everyone at home was surprised at home seeing me eat idli. Over the years my relationship with my father also got better. I also suggested him to have bullet idli at Mitra Samaj, though I never made an attempt to take him to Mitra Samaj. But yes, at home we ate idli together happily, at times recollecting, laughingly, how he took us only to Mitra Samaj and made us eatonly idli.

Now when I have moved to Pune I make sure I do not eat idli here. The reason is simple. I have resolved my relationship with idli and I fear it being spoilt if this place does not prepare idli the way I know it. This has something to do with the experience with Delhi idli. So in this fear of losing my love and friendship with idli I now avoid eating idli here and at the same time crave for the idli prepared by my mother and the idli of Mitra Samaj…


  1. prajna said,

    aaah!! a rom-com story with haapy ending! Don’t try idly in Maharashtra. you would start hating that again. even i detest paneer..yyyaack!!


  2. walkerjay said,

    The quality of the sambaar and chutney is crucial to enjoyment of idlies. So perhaps the next blog might be on those?

  3. uglywords said,

    Sandy!!! Awww, I miss the dude.

  4. Aaditya said,

    Awesome love story, no wonder ppl say love stories are forever…..!!!!

  5. Sandhya Rani said,

    your romance with idli has all the shades and ranges of love! seriously, i always felt that our liking or dislike towards some colors and some tastes has a deeper meaning and deeper reason. your write up reinforced it…. happy you could reconsile with both your father and the idli….. but the iamge of small boy gulping the idlis and the tears makes me sad…..


    “No cake business. Only rice cake” and “If not anything the anger made chewing of idli a bit easy..” these lines i liked the most 🙂 thumba channagide article 🙂 there were times when sandy used to inspire me for my performance 🙂 🙂

  7. Rava Idli (Suji Idli, Semolina Dumplings) « ãhãram said,

    […] Idli: A Love Story ( 0.000000 0.000000 Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailPrintTumblrStumbleUponLike this:Like3 bloggers like this. This entry was posted in Breakfast Items and tagged Breakfast, Cooking, Indian Cooking, Indian Recipes, Rava Idli, Recipes, Semolina Dumplings. […]

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