Idlis in South India are practically worshiped like dosas, vadas and cows. They are the perfect way to start the day and are a typical South Indian breakfast. Idlis are a savory steamed cake made from a batter of unhusked fermented black lentils and rice. From what I read, the fermentation process breaks down the starches and speeds up the metabolic process of absorption. This makes them healthy and light. They are often served with a tangy, soup like sauce called sambar. I consider myself a sambar expert. I love sambar. In many ways, sambar reminds me of potato salad because there are so many variations, each one reflecting the preference of the locale and the ingredients indigenous to that place. The further south one travels, the hotter the sambar. The idlis are also accompanied with a savory grated coconut chutney.
While spending time in South India, I often frequent a tiny idli shop that is across the street from my small hotel. It caters to the locals, has a small menu and is inexpensive. It has 2 blue plastic tables on the street where I sit and a few tables inside. The waiter has been there for years and knows me well. I don’t have to tell him what I want. The sambar is the best I’ve tasted anywhere but it is fiery hot with chiles. Every morning at 4AM the owner prepares the sambar. At 6AM they open.
I eat slowly watching the street life that is transpiring all around. This is a small town and cows roam freely. The Hindus venerate cows and treat them kindly but they are shooed away from vegetable stalls and outdoor restaurants like this one but the cows are persistent and determined, well aware that they need not fear for their safety so they keep returning. One such cow kept coming back, determined to have breakfast too.
With aplomb and nonchalance this cow strolled over to my table, placed her head on the table and looked at me with those doe eyes, giving me plenty of time to capture the moment.
The waiter cleared my plate, picked up a switch that was waiting for just this purpose and clucked loud and menacing noises at the cow, waving the switch in mock anger but the cow knew she had nothing much to fear and ambled off unruffled. The waiter brought my filter coffee and I sat back with pleasure, relishing its rich aroma and creamy taste, very amused to have witnessed idlis under attack.