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An Unusual Idly

Bhagya Lakshmi Amma’s Sree Saraswathy Tea Stall at Ramaserry, Kerala, serves an idli with a difference!

While breakfast in Kerala is typically synonymous with appams (akin pancakes made from fermented rice flour mixed with coconut milk) and idiyaappams (string hoppers) served with stew, and puttus (steamed rice flour-coconut rolls) served with Garbanzo beans curry, there is an exception at Ramassery. It is a small town in Palakkad district where breakfast means enjoying idlis with sambar and chutney. Yet, there is a difference in the form and taste of this idli which is also conveyed in its spelling: Ramassery Idly!
 
To partake a slice of history and a plate of the famous Ramaserry Idlys we found ourselves at Bhagya Lakshmi Amma’s Sree Saraswathy Tea Stall, a simple low structure with a sloping red tiled roof, located across the road from Shree Mandath Devi Temple. It is edged by a low wall with columns that concealed much of the activity within. A kirthimukha on the lintel marked its presence as a threshold guardian while a metal toran that recreated the effect of a string of mango leaves welcomed people.
 
Simple wooden tables with stools offered seating, colourful oleographs of Hindu deities bestowed grace, and a poster on the wall indicated the menu: it listed Tea, Coffee, Ramassery Idly (set), Dosa, Appam, Vada, Bajji, Dall Vada, Banana Bajji, Porotta, Laddu, Rava Laddu, Mixcher and Water. Though there was a small selection of breakfast preparations almost everyone was enjoying Ramassery Idlys! And we also opted for the same without any hesitation.
 
Within minutes a banana leaf was placed before us with a pair of large round flat idlis, placed almost stuck together, with grooved lines across their surfaces, a spoonful of coconut chutney and another spoonful dry poddi following in quick succession. The poddi, sharp and tasty, was made from several dry ingredients, each roasted separately and then ground together to make a tasty chutney. We made a small depression in the centre of the poddi, poured and mixed in a little coconut oil (from a small plastic bottle placed on the table) to reduce its piquancy, add flavour and give it the consistency of a paste.
 
And then we set off to enjoy the idli – it was soft and spongy to the touch, and tasted light with a mild flavour slightly different from the regular idli. We had the idli with each chutney individually, and then with both, and the combination made for a tasty bite as the three different preparations complemented each other well.
 
Intrigued by the shape and taste of the idlis we asked K.S. Bhagwaldas, owner of the homestay Kandath Tharavad in Thenukurussi, who brings guests here for breakfast as a norm, about its antecedents. He traced its origins to about 400 years ago when a drought in Tamil Nadu, as well as invasions, forced people to move to neighbouring Palakkad where they started making idlis as a livelihood.
 
“In my childhood, women would go from home to home selling Ramaserry Idlys. They were a favourite for their lightness and taste. It is the proportion of the rice and lentils that is used in the batter that is the secret to the distinct taste of the idlis and the fact that they stay well. The regular idli tends to get a bit hard and sour by the evening and is invariably made into upma. However, the Ramaserry Idlys stay very well up to four days. This also makes them ideal for carrying while travelling”.
 
The famous Ramaserry Idlys coming to life at Bhagya Lakshmi Amma’s kitchen.
 
Keen to see the preparation of the idlis I ventured into the kitchen behind the tea stall. Seated on a low stool, with two wood fires in front of her with a large vessel on each was Bhagya Lakshmi Amma immersed in preparing idlis. A picture of poise and efficiency, she spooned the batter mix in a circle on a cloth placed on a mesh that was placed on a base in a vessel on the fire, covered it, and repeated the action twice, and then placed a large cover that steamed the idlis. Removing idlis prepared on the other fire, she repeated the action, reusing the cloth on which the idlis had been cooked, while adding firewood to the fire, and deftly placing the cooked idlis in sets of two into a large vessel for sending to the dining area. Apparently the tea stall gets large orders – up to 5000! – for idlis to be taken to cities outside Kerala, which are sent with their signature poddi, vouching for their popularity!
 
Bhagya Lakshmi Amma’s Saraswathy Tea Stall, Ramaserry, Palakkad, Kerala; tel: +91 97449 46160, +91 81292 18421

Posted: May 9, 2018
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