Sunday, June 13, 2010

How about the as-yet-untitled idli project?

How about the as-yet-untitled idli project?

A small, nameless hole-in-the-wall eatery in Commercial Street has served hungry shoppers for three decades now. Elizabeth Soumya eats some very special idlis

Elizabeth Soumya

Sounds of chaos ascend from a swarming, bustling nucleus of retail therapy — steps of focussed, insatiable shoppers slap the pavements hurriedly, wheels screech to a halt as pedestrians cross paths with automobiles bravely, stubborn street vendors woo with repetitive chants and discourteous honks are hurled into the dissonance. In this heady din of confusion on Commercial Street, it's almost healing to experience another kind of mess a minute's amble away — in the old bylane of Jewellers' Street.
Here, a pleasant fresh 'tzzzh' is heard when water is sprinkled on a hot black rectangular slab, the tawa, a gush of hot steam escapes with a 'ssssh' when the lid is lifted off a steaming oven with fluffed idlis and the butter on the dosas melts with a faint short-lived gurgle. What's this escape called? Owner, 54-year-old FB Radhakrishnan, is almost shocked anyone would ask such a question: "Our shop doesn't have a name, we've never called it anything. You could just call it 'mess' if you want," he says. And yet this nameless, humble hole-in-the-wall shop run by the husband-wife duo has survived with faithful gourmands for over three decades. A popular joint on Ibrahim Street, the shop moved to Jewellers' Street about three years ago.
The 'idli kada' as some call it, has stuck to its unpretentious menu. The offerings read: fresh idlis (four in a plate); dosas (plain, masala); bath masala; lemon rice; shavige bath (vermicelli); and paddus (that were introduced recently). Bath masala, unique to the 'mess' is masala dosa with shavige bath as a filling in addition to the traditional potato 'pallya'.
"It's an idea he came up with, and people loved it," says R Satyalakshmi, Radhakrishnan's wife, as she persuades a batch of fresh idlis off a steaming cloth. paddus, another rarity on city menus makes an appearance at the shop.
"They're tiny coin-size patties made of 'appam' dough," says Radhakrishnan. "Called Paniyaro in Tamil, Gundupongalam in Telugu, Paddu in Kannada, Puli oorande in Malayam…," he rattles on. A plate of slightly bronzed paddu comes with about five to six paddus.
The dishes are served on a newspaper with a layer of 'yele' or a leaf plate with accompaniments of green mint chutney and an orangeish onion chutney. For those with a sweet tooth, jamuns and burfis are also up for grabs.
The kada opens at 4pm and is teeming as the hours go by and bystanders choke the views from the shop. It's 8pm and orders for idlis are still streaming in. A few stragglers are disappointed to hear, "No idlis, only dosa now". "Just one plate," some plead. After some thought Satyalakshmi relents: "Ten minutes wait, OK?" she says before lovingly pouring batter into a massive idli mold and closing the lid shut. And to think, the night has only begun.


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