Those who know me are probably quite surprised that I haven't yet written about the Idli in my series on food fetishes. I am quite surprised too!
The Idli is the ultimate in culinary delights. To describe the idli, however is to be grossly unjust to it. How does one describe an idli? Soft, fluffy pieces of rice flour? Never was anything so sublime described in so poor a fashion.
An Idli is only to be experienced to be fully understood. And note the word 'experienced' for you never 'eat' an Idli, you only 'experience' it.
It is really, really difficult to make good Idlis. It is very easy to make good dosas, wadas and the entire gamut of South Indian delicacies. But Idli making is an art in itself. Many an experienced hand has failed miserably in this attempt.
I am not even going to venture to present a complete recipe. The ingredients are boiled rice flour and urad dal (English equivalent, anyone?). These have to be soaked overnight and ground into a paste and then allowed to ferment. Flat balls of the resultant mixture are steamed and served. Idlis are eaten with a variety of chutneys, karam podi and sambar. And yes, an Idli without ghee is like the sun without light, a flower without fragrance, the sky without the stars, well, you get the picture!
There are a few places in Hyderabad where you get Idlis that are to die for. I mention two of them here.
One is Chutneys. They have three branches in the city. The Babai Hotel Idli there is out of the world. The Idlis are literally soaked in ghee and topped with dollops of white butter for good measure. Weight watchers - try it please and then make it up by starving for a week. They have a delectable array of chutneys that are served with the Idlis.
The other place which I have mentioned quite a few times (here and here, for example) in this blog is Poorna Tiffins. This place is a shabby little joint in Krishnanagar (off Srinagar Colony). But, no sir, don't go by the looks of the place. The Idlis served here are ethereal. Tiny little Idlis, topped generously with ghee served with a spicy chutney and karam podi (no sambar!). These Idlis have been my Sunday breakfast for a couple of years now. Come hell or high water, I go there every Sunday morning and eat to my heart's content.
Eventually, it all boils down to a fight between my stomach and my tongue. My stomach screams, "No more" while my tongue begs, "One more!"