Storm over idli tweet

British lecturer Edward Anderson could not have predicted the storm he was setting off when he tweeted that idlis, the South Indian culinary staple popular throughout India, were "the most boring things in the world".

His tweet was a reply to a survey by food app Zomato India - started on Oct 4 - asking users to name "that one dish you could never understand why people like so much".

There were many controversial answers to the tweet - biryani and rajma being prime examples - but none probably elicited the kind of response that Mr Anderson's did.

Mr Anderson, married to a Malayali woman named Malavika, has since been inundated with suggestions on the right ways to eat idli.

He has also been taken to task and invited to breakfast, presumably to appreciate idlis better, by the Indian member of parliament Shashi Tharoor - and even caricatured in a Malayalam newspaper.

Several South Indians also took to social media to defend one of their favourite delicacies.

The idli is a steamed rice cake that is usually eaten with a lentil-based vegetable stew called sambar.

It is regarded as a gut-friendly breakfast staple and comfort food, popular with South Indians in India and abroad.

Indian food writer Vir Sanghvi calls it the best known South Indian dish in India and perhaps the world.

Mr Tharoor and his son Ishaan vehemently disagreed with Mr Anderson's comment.

"I think I've encountered the most offensive take on Twitter," Mr Ishaan tweeted.

Mr Anderson replied with a GIF of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and said: "That was a big mistake. And I'm sorry."

Mr Tharoor's comment, however, sounded more wrathful than his son's.

"Yes, my son, there are some who are truly challenged in this world. Civilisation is hard to acquire: the taste & refinement to appreciate idlis, enjoy cricket or watch ottamthullal (a comedic dance and poetic performance form of Kerala) is not given to every mortal.

"Take pity on this poor man, for he may never know what Life can be," Mr Tharoor tweeted.

Mr Anderson, who is a lecturer in history at Northumbria University in England and has focused his research on contemporary history of India and the Indian diaspora at large, could only say, "Oh dear", to that.

But, in another tweet, Mr Anderson mentioned that he is re-reading Mr Tharoor's book Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India and has even asked his students to read it.

In a cheeky reply, Mr Tharoor said that the class will be better if students read the book over a "plate of steaming idlis".

Terming Mr Tharoor's tweet a "valid response", Indian food historian Pushpesh Pant said the "beautiful and perfectly balanced food" is not just healthy but "cost-effective" too as the batter can be used over several days for different dishes.

"It has lentils, it has rice and it gives you a very interesting mix of vegetable proteins. It is a steamed food, it doesn't take too much oil to make, also it is easy to digest," Mr Pant told the Press Trust of India.

While the basics of making idli remain the same - rice flour, urad dal (black gram) and a fermenting agent - several versions are available in South India ranging from flat, saucer-shaped "thatte idli" in Karnataka, the "plain idli" in Tamil Nadu and Kerala to the "sanna", a savoury steamed rice cake shaped like a hockey puck, in Goa.

Although he is not an idli fan, Indian food critic Rahul Verma believes the idli's taste comes from what it is eaten with.

"Idli doesn't have a taste of its own, it depends on what goes with it. Idli either with chutney or sambar or chicken, mutton or pork curries makes all the difference," he said.

Enraged idli lovers on Twitter also tried to school Dr Anderson on the right way to consume idlis, with an array of delicious side dishes.

They suggested warm idli mopped up from a banana leaf with fiery mulagapodi, a spicy dry condiment of lentils and chillies, fresh coconut chutney and steaming sambar.

The row that Mr Anderson triggered reached another level when the BBC linked it to the United States elections. It said Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris' Indian-born mother was keen to instil in her a "love for good idli" during her holidays in Chennai.

Mr Anderson tweeted after that report: "Fantastic. My stupid idli comment has now been connected - ever so tenuously - to the US election. For the record: I love Indian food... and especially South Indian food! (Just not idlis)."

He later told The Times of India that he has never quite understood the love for idli. "I spend quite a lot of time in South India and I'm frequently served idlis," he said.

"I have no traumatic experience around it but they seem extremely bland and, unless straight out of the steamer, can have a fairly unpleasant texture."

He told The Print that the controversy arose because "there genuinely is a divide".

"If it was just people telling me I was wrong, then I think it would have fizzled out quickly. But many people agreed with me," he said.

Mr Tharoor countered: "At least now, @edanderson101, you know idlis aren't boring! Would a mere roti have stirred up such a viral row on social media? Let alone a Yorkshire pudding?"

Indo-Asian News Service

"... there are some who are truly challenged in this world. Civilisation is hard to acquire: the taste & refinement to appreciate idlis, enjoy cricket or watch ottamthullal is not given to every mortal. Take pity on this poor man, for he may never know what Life can be." - Indian member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor 

"I spend quite a lot of time in South India and I'm frequently served idlis. I have no traumatic experience around it but they seem extremely bland and, unless straight out of the steamer, can have a fairly unpleasant texture." - British lecturer Edward Anderson

 
 
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