The Fascinating Story Of Rava Idli – How It Is Enjoyed In Bengaluru And Chennai

You will hear legends about how people waited for days to score a table at the first MTR or Mavalli Tiffin Room in the 1970s and 1980s in Bengaluru. I’ve heard those stories from my grandparents who were from Bengaluru. It was at MTR that I tried a rava idli for the first time. The MTR story began a century ago, in 1924  when three brothers switched base from a sleepy hamlet near Udupi to set up a small eatery in Bengaluru. It was Yagnarayana Maiya or Yagnappa who took the lead among the siblings and set the stage for the MTR brand as we know it today.

Also Read: 5 Healthy And Tasty Sooji Snacks Recipes You’d Love To Make Time And Again

One of the most fascinating stories you will hear around MTR is the origin of the rava idli. It almost began by accident. Yagnappa experimented with rava during the Second World War when rice was in short supply, an innovative new dish born out of necessity. It’s still a favourite at MTR outlets across the city and the one dish I keep going back for. 

The rava idli didn’t just become a part of restaurant menus in Bengaluru and Chennai but also became a popular ‘tiffin’ (that endless time between lunch and dinner) snack across South India. There are subtle variations between versions you will see in Bengaluru and Chennai (see both recipes) but the basic ingredients are almost the same – rava (semolina) and curd with a host of spices and ingredients that add to the flavour profile. The colour also tends to vary from one restaurant to the other depending on the quantity of fresh coriander that’s added to the batter. 

Rava idli is a popular south Indian food.

Rava idli is a popular South Indian food.
Photo Credit: Ashwin Rajagopalan

If you’re looking at trying this dish out in Chennai, we’d suggest the New Woodlands Hotel on RK Salai or Eating Circles in RA Puram which both do scrumptious versions of the rava idli. In most restaurants in Bengaluru like MTR it’s served with a sagu and/or a coconut chutney will a small dollop of ghee added to the idli. You can try making this delicious snack at home. It isn’t just a great snack for tea time (or filter coffee time!) but also works well as a light dinner option:  

Recipe: Bangalore-style Rava Idli

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rava 
  • 2 cup slightly sour whisked curd 
  • 2 tbsp Ghee 
  • 1 tbsp Mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp Channa Dal
  • 1 tbsp  green chilli, finely chopped 
  • A pinch of asafoetida 
  • 1/4 tbsp Eno fruit salt or baking soda 
  • 10 whole cashews broken into halves
  • 3 tbsp Coriander leaves finely chopped
  • Salt: to taste 

Method 

  • Temper mustard seeds with ghee in a pad. Once the mustard seeds splutter,  add the asafoetida, channa dal, and green chillies and saute for a minute. 
  • Now add the cashews and saute till golden brown. 
  • Add the rava and roast on a medium flame for about 2 to 3 minutes till aromatic. 
  • Turn off the heat and let it cool.
  • Now add half of the curd to the rava and mix well. Let it rest for 15 mins.
  • After 15 minutes, add the remaining curd, eno/baking soda, coriander and salt. Mix well.
  • Now the batter becomes airy when you stir. 
  • Grease the idli plate with oil and place cashews in the centre.
  • Fill 3/4th of each Idli mould with batter. 
  • Steam for 10 minutes in an Idli steamer.
  • Turn off the heat and let them cook before it cools down and you can remove them from the mould. 

Also Read: Tried Coriander Upma? Here’s A Quick Recipe For This Healthy Dish

Recipe – Chennai-style Rava Idli

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rava 
  • 2 tbsp ghee 
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds 
  • 1/2 tbsp  cumin seeds 
  • 1 tbsp chana dal
  • A pinch of asafoetida  
  • A sprig of curry leaves, finely chopped 
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1-inch ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp carrot, grated
  • 1/4 tbsp turmeric
  • 3/4 cup slightly sour curd 
  • 2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
  • Salt: to taste  
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tbsp  Eno or baking soda 
  • 10 whole cashews broken into halves

Method

  • Roast cashews with ghee till they are golden brown and keep aside. 
  • Add a small quantity of ghee to the same pan and temper the mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds splutter, add the asafoetida, channa dal, green chillies, ginger turmeric and saute for a minute. 
  • Add the rava and roast on a medium flame for about two to three minutes. 
  • Turn off the heat and let it cool.
  • Now add the curd to the rava and mix well. If the mixture is too thick, add some water to adjust the consistency. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
  • Add eno/baking soda, coriander and salt. Mix well.
  • Now the batter becomes airy when you stir. 
  • Grease the idli plate with oil and place cashews in the centre, arrange some grated carrots. 
  • Fill 3/4th of each Idli mould with batter. 
  • Steam for 10 minutes in an Idli steamer.
  • Turn off the heat and let them cook before it cools down and you can remove them from the mould. 
     

About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie – a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.

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