Last night, I tried this new dish. It was called Idly 65, in a restaurant called Mr. Idly. It’s easy to imagine what it would look or taste like. Everyone knows about the Chicken 65, the famous South Indian dish introduced by Buhari Hotel in 1965. Popular vegetarian alternatives to this would include Gobi, Paneer and Baby corn 65. But idly 65? That was new, to me at least.
This new presentation of idly was quite a surprise. Besides idly 65, they had idly manchurian, chilly idly, and garlic idly on the menu. And people did take a liking to it. A North Indian meat consuming friend of mine who accompanied me that day felt it almost tasted like chicken. And this friend isn’t someone who generally prefers idly, biriyani, full meals or anything with a semblance to South Indian food.
This has rekindled a thought that had been playing around in my mind for long. Why aren’t South Indian dishes being marketed the same way North Indian dishes or Chaat are? Why aren’t South Indian food items loved by everyone the same way as North Indian food items? The fundamental problem is in the presentation and marketing. We all know idly is a highly nutritious dish. The idly-sambar combo has been rated as the best food to consume for breakfast, probably because of the unlimited sidekick sambar that comes along with the idly rather than the protagonist itself. The idly is only as good as the sambar. But, it is also the second most boring dish to eat, after upma. Ask any kid who grew up in the south of the Vindhyas, and he would say “Idly ah? I’ll skip breakfast today then”. No person who has a reasonable fondness for food would go to a restaurant and order idly.
But when the same humble and unassuming idly is mixed with molaga podi and chutney sauce in a 50:50 ratio and sauteed in olive oil with curry leaves, presented in a taste buds appetising reddish colour with toothpicks, people are willing to pay ₹120 for a small cup. The scope is huge. My next step is finding out if something similar exists for the upma. If it doesn’t, I’m going to devise a formula to rebrand the upma by mixing a few secret ingredients and giving it colour. Ten years down the line, if you see me at a restaurant making the best selling upma in India, don’t be surprised. Buy a plate and eat it instead.
Disclaimer: The North Indians generalisation here does not apply to uncles aged 40 years and above who slurp sambar off the bowl in fifteen seconds and repeat the process four more times by asking for refills.