One of the earliest known references to the idli dates back to Kannada works of Shivakotyacharya 920 AD where it is described as “one of the eighteen items served when a lady offers refreshments to a brahmachari who visits her home”. Thereafter the idli, its recipe (the batter was initially made with only urad dal) and preparation are mentioned in old texts. Around the seventh century, KT Achaya states in Indian Food: A Historical Companion, lumps of batter tied in thin cloth were placed in a wicker basket over a wide-mouthed vessel filled with boiling water. The procedure remained largely the same until the scooped-out metal idli plate was created – the plate, lined with thin cloth, was placed over a wok filled with water and covered by a dome-like lid until done. The idli steamer as we know it made things much simpler (though not necessarily better), and has helped extend the idli beyond south Indian homes. “Every house has one nowadays, it doesn’t matter which community,” attests the seller at Ratan steel mart at Bhuleshwar. “The south Indians like the big ones and the Gujaratis like the mini idlis better.”
Skim through traditional recipe books from Bengal, Maharashtra, Kerala or Tamil Nadu and more than half the preparations will call for dried, fresh or roasted coconut. The coconut scraper has been an integral part of coastal Indian kitchens for centuries. The bonti, as it’s called in Bengali, comprises a narrow wooden base with a curved blade (perfect for cleaning fish), one end of which had a serrated edge used to get the flesh out of the coconut shell. It’s tedious to squat on the ground, which is probably why the platform version – the blade is clamped on with screws – became quite popular when it came out in 1968. Today there are even simpler (but not as effective) appliances like the hand-turned and electrical coconut scrapers made with a rotating serrated multi-blade. But according to Jabbar Singh Chauhan, the owner of the 25-year-old store Shree Ramdev Steel near Panjrapole, they aren’t doing too well. “The older ladies have the most problems with the traditional scraper but they refuse to use any of the newer versions,” Singh said. And the younger women of the house “don’t care about the difference between scraped and ground coconut. They just put the pieces in the mixie.”
The pakkad’s function is as straight forward as its name. The new take on the original, made with a thick wire, has got mixed reactions from the customers. On the one hand, the side handle eliminates the chance of steam scalding the holder as the vessel is emptied of dal, sambar, kadi or whatever else is cooking for dinner. But its grip isn’t as solid as the older design: the heavier the vessel, the higher the risk of spillage. “So many things come into play,” said Jabbar Singh. “The size of the pakkad, the size of the vessel, the thickness of the rim, they all affect the grip of the new design.” Plus, he said, the old pakkad can also be used to tighten screws.
By Neha Sumitran on July 20 2012 7.06am