2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Breakfast Goes on Long After the Thrill of Idlis Is Gone

Breakfast Goes on Long After the Thrill of Idlis Is Gone

Rava Idlis in Bangalore

I can recall clearly the first day I ate a plate of rava idlis, steamed semolina rice cakes. My partner and I were in a long-distance relationship and were planning to meet. I was tired after an overnight train ride, but on a comfortably chilly Bangalore Saturday morning, when the town was only only beginning to come to life, we went to a local hangout for breakfast. I can hark back to that breakfast table clearly to this day.

There is something restorative about a plate of steaming rava idlis sitting in front of you. The palm-sized, pearly white, billowy rounds of cake look almost sedate, though they often sit next to a spoonful of fiery red chutney. Steaming reduces the bright green of finely chopped cilantro bits into something tamer, and the roasted Bengal gram and (sometimes) cashew-nut garnish serves as a nice crunch when a piece of idli is popped into your mouth.

I knew I had found breakfast love. In retrospect, I’m surprised I found reassurance in food during that period of my life, but rava idlis, to me, were a sign of the city I would soon get to know better, the city I was starting a new life in, the city whose Jacaranda trees and their graceful blue flowers I had come to love already.

It is perhaps the recipe of a time-pressed yet inventive homemaker looking to whip up breakfast. Perhaps she experimented with semolina, roasting it and stirring in sour yogurt along with other spices and roasted cashew nuts. Perhaps semolina was already gaining recognition as a staple in South Indian kitchens. Public dissemination of this kitchen secret was, however, undertaken by the popular South Indian food chain, MTR, which is based in Bangalore.

Eventually, I moved to the city and my partner and I lived together for five memorable years, but now there is a different sort of distance between us, one that can’t be bridged by overnight trains. He never grew used to the rava idlis I make: you haven’t roasted the cashews in this batch, wasn’t there cilantro at home? I am met with a barrage of questions at the breakfast table when my beloved rava idlis are made. But minor glitches or otherwise, rava idlis have never failed me.

I do not think much about the first encounter I had with rava idlis anymore. When I have them in restaurants with spoonfuls of sagu (potato gravy) and chutney, they are just a typical part of my life, as I am a part of my adopted city.

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