Rich in taste and distinct in look, the Ramassery idli has a legacy spanning generations

An idli that looks almost like a dosa, it is made by just four families of Ramassery village in Kerala's Palakkad district.

ByK A Shaji

Published Oct 08, 2022 | 8:00 AMUpdatedOct 08, 2022 | 8:00 AM

Smitha Ramassery idli

For the visiting foodie, the Ramassery idli is the tastiest of breakfast options one can conceive of. For Bhagyalakshmi Ammal, who makes it, it is a legacy of more than three generations.

Ammal, 73, runs a small eatery in the rural settings of Palakkad district, Kerala, attracting on an average of 300 visitors daily who descend on her village just to savour her offering.

So popular has her idli become that it has now come to be known after Ammal’s village: Ramassery.

Ammal’s eatery is one of the four in the village selling this variety of idli.

Each is run by a different family, all belonging to the Mudaliyar community. But Ammal knows that very few in the village can carry forward the legacy that the Ramassery idli represents.

“The world is moving too fast,” she tells South First. “Nobody has the time to make this idli the way it is supposed to be made.”

Making of a unique idli

There is a reason why the Ramassery idli attracts return visitors: The process of making it is truly unique, leaving an indelible impression on the taster.

Ramassery idli

The Ramassery is flat like a dosa and double the size of the average idli. (South First)

And those who are exposed to the uncompromising ritual that is the process of making it, returns with an everlasting reverence for the four families who have dedicated themselves to this unique culinary legacy.

First, it doesn’t look like the regular version found at every street corner; the Ramassery idli is exceptional in look and taste.

In looks, it resembles a medium-sized dosa. That makes it about twice the size of a regular idli.

Ammal and other idli makers of the village use a locally grown rice variety, endemic to the eastern borders of Palakkad, to prepare the batter.

They then season the batter with high-quality black gram and fenugreek sourced from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Once the batter is ready following fermentation, the cooking process begins, using muslin-covered earthen pots or stone vessels.

Leaves from a particular variety of tree that found locally is used for demoulding the idlis; these leaves lend a subtle fragrance to the idlis. None of the families will reveal which tree it is.

Above all, the idlis are cooked using only firewood from the tamarind tree, although increasingly this practice is on the wane.

The villagers serve the idlis with the accompaniment of the podi mix made of a special set of spices and Palakkadan matta rice, typical of Palakkad district.

The Kerala-style sambar is another accompaniment.

Saving the tradition

Old-timers say today’s Ramassery idli holds the same taste and character that has transcended generations over the last 150 years.

Ramassery Idli

Ramassery Idli, ready to eat. (South First)

“We never modified the process or did any experiments,” says village elder Kuppandi Mudaliyar, 82. “We will retain purity in the future too.”

Smitha Vijayakumar, a relative of Ammal who too runs an eatery in the village, says the number of people with expertise to prepare the Ramassery idli the traditional way is fast dwindling even as its popularity is going global.

But for now, the business is thriving.

“Normally, we make the idlis during early mornings and serve them for breakfast. Only on getting advance orders do we serve in the evening hours,” Smitha tells South First.

“Nowadays, we occasionally get bulk orders from restaurants, marriage functions and other events.”

International publications and culinary experts have written extensively about Ramassery and its unique idli, prompting food lovers from various parts of the world to seek out the village and taste the dish.

Promoting the idli

However, Smitha’s husband, PK Vijayakumar, are the only ones determined to promote the idli variety to the maximum possible.

The three other families that have traditionally been making the idli believe people must come to the village and have the idlis for an authentic experience.

So when you come across the Ramassery idli being served at festivals in cities of Kerala and outside, it is Vijaykumar who is behind the counter.

The government-owned Mascot Hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, too, successfully organised a mega Ramassery idli festival in the first week of October.

Unlike other idlis which can go bad in a couple of days, the Ramassery version has a shelf-life of about a week.

This has made it attractive for departmental stores and supermarkets in central Kerala to now retail them in packs of five for ₹100.