Of the Hyderabadi understanding of time and “correctness”!

“This is NOT the way we do things in this house,” a gruff voice accompanied by a stern look pronounces. The voice in itself is enough to make me quiver a bit but I was a very new bride and inclined to take liberties  – knowing I’d be forgiven! The owner of the voice and the pronouncer of doom is my husband’s grandfather – a truly grand old man and a proper patriarch – in the days when they still made patriarchs!

There are two of us who are receiving an admonition  – my brother-in-law and myself – but I get away with this whilst he goes on to get a royal trimming for not having brought home his “manni” (older sister-in-law/bhabhi, vadina/vaini – me!) on time – serious dereliction of duty which merits the court martial he gets!

There was a book fair in town and since my husband was busy, we’d decided to go on our own and meet up with the rest of family (including grandpop-in-law. Even referrring to him as grandpop seems sacrilegious; I feel like I should stand up and salute!) at a hospital later where we were to visit a cousin who was ill. We’d been instructed to meet them at half past five in the evening and strolled in, quite reasonably for a Hyderabadi, only a couple of hours later! We had quite a phalanx greeting us – said grandpop-in-law, father-in-law, another cousin and hubby dear – all pacing the lane outside the hospital. Not realizing anything was wrong, I greeted them with a cheerful “Hiii!” (I had been taught to be polite to elders, you see!), only to be greeted with a grunt in return – many grunts, actually! A closer look revealed that I was actually facing a phalanx of Bhishma mahaashay, Dronacharya and Yudhisthira ( the Mahabharata elders!) on a lane which eerily began to resemble Kurukshetra! 

My brother-in-law had been hopping around like a crocodile had gotten hold of his backside from 5 o’clock onwards, “Please, please let’s get going. We’ll be late!” I thought he was quite mad to suggest leaving, of all things, a book fair – before we’d quite had our fill! 

Now, the thing about growing up in my beloved Hyderabad is that when you say 7 o’clock or whatever o’clock, both parties to the agreement know that it means nine o’clock, a couple of hours later – this strange Madras habit of actually meaning 7 when you say 7 was very foreign and I could not for the life of me, wrap my head around it! Took me a few months but I did, finally! Otherwise, I don’t think I’d have gotten off so easily the first time around 🙂

This habit of being precise is something that is characteristic of Madras and reflected in many of the foods that Madras has to offer – the most famous of them all being the idli, of course!

A food that is close to perfect, perfect diet food, perfect food for the climate, perfect for bad tummies and good tummies – there is probably very little that approaches it in terms of sheer delightfulness and wholesomeness.

For all the dissenters out there, I must also tell you that my brother used to hate these so much, that everytime there were idlis for breakfast, he’d zoom off on his bike to eat his parantha omelette at a roadside eatery!

There are two equally great ways to make idlis – here’s both:


  • Urad dal – 1 cup
  • Parboiled idli rice – 2.5 cups
  • Poha (beaten rice) – 1/2 cup – optional (soaked for half an hour)
  • Salt

Soak urad dal and rice separately for 4-5 hours or overnight. Wash and drain. Add poha. Grind separately in the idli grinder if you have one to a smooth batter, adding about a glass and a half of water to get the right “dropping” consistency. If you do NOT have a grinder, grind in the mixer, opening frequently to aerate the mixture. Add salt and whip. Leave overnight in a warm place to ferment. It should almost double in volume.

Whip again and pour into idli moulds. Steam for 12-14 minutes on a high flame and switch off. Let cool for five minutes before de-moulding. Serve with coconut chutney/tomato chutney/sambar/milaga podi/chutney podi + sesame oil (see other posts on this blog). A few drops of ghee on each will actually make the already perfect food into ambrosia!


  • Urad dal – 1 cup
  • Idli rava – 2.5 cups
  • Poha – 1/2 cup
  • Salt

Soak only the urad dal for a few hours. The rava can be soaked for just about an hour. Drain the rava, grind and add to the ground urad dal batter. Proceed the same way as above.

COCONUT CHUTNEY (of which there a million and this is just one!)

  • 1 cup grated fresh coconut
  • 1/4 cup fried gram/putani/pottu kadalai/putnala pappu
  • Ginger – 1 cm piece
  • Green chilies – 2
  • Asafoetida – 1 pinch
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice – 1 tsp
  • Sugar – 1 pinch
  • Coriander leaves – 2 tbsp (optional)

Grind everything together to a medium coarse chutney consistency, add a couple of tbsp of water.Season by heating 1 tsp oil and frying 1/4 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp urad dal and 1 sprig curry leaves.

And once you have this, maybe you too (even if you are a Hyderabadi) may learn to be ‘properly punctual’ like the Tamilian!

 P.S. I have a standing grouse against the OED for not including the word “idli” in the dictionary – and I’ve been waiting for the new word lists every year… this year too, they disappoint!