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In 2013, a survey called the Indian Breakfast Habits Study was conducted in four major metro cities–Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. The results shouldn’t really surprise—Chennai’s plate of piping hot idlis, steaming sambar and filter coffee was found to have the best ‘nutrient profile’. Made from urad dal and rice, idlis are a healthy treat because of their lightness. The nutrition is not the only advantage—they also come without fats, saturated fats or cholesterol. As South Indians moved around the country and the world, they introduced different versions of the idli. One man in Chennai sells at least 30 kinds of idlis in his shop in Chennai. And that’s not all. A few years ago, he attempted to create a world record by making over 2,000 varieties. “One day, my son was asking me to take him out for pizza. It would be expensive to go out, so I took some leftover poriyal and made him pizza idli. He loved it!” says Iniyavan. While Iniyavan advocates innovation for relevance in a changing world, Ram Kumar Shinde has seen the world change, all while serving idli. An MBA graduate, Ram decided to take over his father’s business—a food cart or bandi, as it is called in Hyderabadi. Visited by young and old, this nondescript pushcart in Hyderabad’s old city has now become a searchable location on Google Maps as ‘Ram Ki Bandi’. Swanky sedans and SUVs are often parked close by. While speaking to Iniyavan and Ram, I realised that idli-making is often taken for granted, and that’s because it seems so simple. Earlier in this podcast series, I’ve gushed about how chutneys complete idli and make it special. Because you only have to get the idli batter right, and after that, they really cook themselves under steam. The pinnacle of this ease is surely the pre-packaged mixes that give almost-instant idlis. “We don’t sell idli, we give idli batter. A home-maker picks up a pack of idli batter and cooks steaming idli, serves it to the family fresh, hot, and they eat it together. If the idli comes out well, she gets the credit, not me. And if for some reason, the dosa is not crispy, she can blame it on me, brand ID,” says P C Musthafa, an entrepreneur from Wayanad, Kerala. He is helping bring idli to almost every home, almost every day! In 2005, he founded ID Fresh Food from a 550-square foot kitchen with four cousins in Bengaluru’s Tippasandra. They had basic equipment—a mixer, two grinders and a machine to seal the batter. Their brand name, ID, stood for ‘idli, dosa’. Check out the full episode!

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