Idlis Image Credit: Pexels

A couple of years ago when I said in this column that idli is my fav brekkie, though they taste of nothing, nobody objected, not even nationalists.

My wife was however, upset and asked, “What about the chutneys and ‘podi’ that Bassamma makes?”

(Bassamma, by the way, is our maid, who moved from a village to Bengaluru city 10 years ago and is a vegetarian but makes meat dishes for us. She believes meat provides essential protein to the body and she knows that because her son eats chicken tikka on the sly).

‘Podi’ for the uninitiated, is made from ground lentin, red chilies, and cumin seeds and is locally known as “gunpowder” in Andhra state, where it originates. (Andhra people incidentally are very hospitable but they speak very loudly, must be because of eating all those chilies).

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Some doctors in India suggest you eat chilies because they have some substance called capsaicin and that triggers your metabolism and helps in reducing cholesterol and also reduce your weight. (But I think people lose weight because they run around a lot after eating chili, but then do not listen to what I say because I am not a doctor).

Idli are basically steamed rice cakes and on their own taste like as if you are munching cotton wool and that is why you need side dips like chutneys and ‘podi’. It is a very popular dish in Dubai, of all places, not because the locals love it, but because there are a ton of Indians living there and they eat idli for breakfast, lunch, and ‘tiffin’, the smaller meal that is eaten around 4pm. (At night they eat chicken wings, I think).

With thousands of people enjoying idli, nutritionists in Dubai started recommending the dish for breakfast, among other boring stuff like oats, that also tastes ‘bleh’, because many in the emirate don’t lead a healthy lifestyle and eat junk food that is loaded with sugar and salt and makes everyone waddle about. (The nutritionists also suggested avocado paste on toast, and it looks like you are eating green slime early morning, but nutritionists have no sense of humour, as I found out much later).

When Zomato, a food delivery company asked Tweeps, “What’s that one dish you could never understand why people like soo much”, Brit historian Edward Anderson responded saying, “Idlis are the most boring things in the world.”

An outrage on social media

Twitter was suddenly awash with indignant Indians, both ‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’ (as they say here in India), and even Shashi Tharoor, a former diplomat and now a politician, and thus no longer diplomatic, thundered that the professor was “truly challenged”, when his son, a US-based columnist said he had come across something most offensive on Twitter, the social media platform.

“Civilisation is hard to acquire: the taste and refinement to appreciate idlis, enjoy cricket, or watch ottamthullal is not given to every mortal,” Tharoor said, who incidentally speaks English in a posh, toffee-nosed accent and has written books about how the colonial Brits had looted India of all its treasures, even the Crown Jewels.

People from Bengaluru downloaded pictures of idli slathered with green coriander chutney and invited the professor to try it next him he comes here.

(Incidentally, the Brit professor is married to a Keralite and loves all South Indian food, except Idli).

Idli has to be made from fresh ground rice and not with the ready-made mixture that comes out of a packet, because Idli made from the packaged stuff becomes really hard the next day and the idli can only be used for hitting monkeys that come through the kitchen window and steal your bananas.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi