Idli-Sambar In Chennai: History, Types And Top 5 Spots
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Along with rich culture and tradition, Tamil Nadu is also blessed with magnificent and flavoursome cuisine. From simple breakfasts like dosa and vada to wholesome dishes like chicken chettinad and lemon rice, the state is a hub for food connoisseurs. Talking particularly about Chennai, this place has a special connection with the classic duo of idli and sambar. Being the heart of Tamil Nadu, this city offers mouthwatering idli-sambar along with various chutneys.

Idli sambar is an iconic South Indian breakfast that is popular all over the country. In simple words, idli is a soft and fluffy rice cake that is traditionally served with sambar, a vegetable-lentil stew that is flavoured with plenty of spices and herbs. This hearty combination is amazingly delicious and is also a healthy choice to kick-start your day.

It is said that idli originated in Tamil Nadu in the 17th century and was originally known as ittali. However, according to food historian K. T. Achaya, this rice cake travelled to India from Indonesia somewhere between 800 and 1200 CE. The food historian says that the recipe came to our country along with the royal cooks of Hindu kings who waged war in Indonesia. 

On the other hand, sambar is said to have originated in the state of Maharashtra. According to legend, the original recipe for sambar can be traced to Maratha king Shivaji's son, Sambhaji Bhosale. As per the story, Sambhaji's head cook took a day off, and Sambhaji made the decision to prepare amti dal for himself.

However, he ended up experimenting with toor dal in place of moong dal and using tamarind instead of kokum. When the dish was offered to the court attendees, everyone loved it, and they named it 'sambar', after Sambhaji's name. 

There are plenty of experiments happening with idli-sambar all over the country, and people have created their own versions. Here are some of their popular varieties:

3 Different Types Of Idli

The Classic Idli

This is the regular recipe, which is made with rice, urad dal, and a hint of fenugreek seeds. It is the most beloved variety and is popular all across the country. It is the process of fermentation that creates soft, fluffy, and delicious idlis. They are traditionally served with coconut chutney and sambar. 

Rava Idli

After the original idli recipe, rava idli is another popular variation of this traditional dish. These steamed cakes are made with semolina, yoghurt, spices, veggies, and curry leaves. Packed with fibre, this variation of idli is perfect to prepare on busy mornings as it is an instant recipe. 

Thatte Idli

The term thatte means plate in Kannada. This variation of idli is said to have originated in Tumkur and Bidadi districts of Karnataka and is relatively bigger in size. One thatte idli is equivalent to two to three regular idlis, and they are flatter in shape, resembling a plate or disc. Due to the addition of tapioca pearls, they are slightly spongier and porous. Thatte idli is best served with spicy coconut chutney.

3 Types Of Sambar 

Classic Sambar 

Being the most popular variety, this sambar is prepared with toor dal, sambar powder, tamarind extract, and plenty of vegetables like drumsticks, carrots, beans, and eggplants. The main flavour comes from the use of sambar powder and the tempering of spices and herbs like mustard seeds, curry leaves, and dried red chillies. 

Arachuvitta Sambar

The term arachuvitta translates to ground in Tamil, and it got this name because in this recipe, the spices are first roasted and then freshly ground with coconut for the masala. This process makes the dish extremely aromatic and delicious. The main ingredients used in preparing arachuvitta sambar are chana dal, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, and red chilli powder. 

Buttermilk Sambar 

This is a unique variation of sambar, which is prepared with buttermilk, roasted chana dal, grated coconut, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and other spices. Unlike the regular varieties, buttermilk sambar does not use tamarind for sourness. Apart from idli, this smabar goes well with rice, dosa, vada, and pulao.

The Top 5 Places to Enjoy Idli And Sambar In Chennai

Rathna Café

If you want to enjoy some delicious South Indian meals in Chennai with your family, then try out this restaurant. Every dish from this place is good, but when it comes to idli-sambar, no one can beat Rathna Café. They have been known to maintain an authentic taste for ages. It is located on Triplicane High Road. 

Murugan Idli Shop

This legendary restaurant was started in 1991 by Mr. Manoharan, and since then they have been serving some authentic South Indian meals to their customers. Murugan’s has around 26 outlets in the country and other parts of the world, including in the United Kingdom, Singapore, and France. They are known for serving soft and fluffy idlis with sambar and a variety of chutneys like coriander, tomato, coconut, and mint.

Sangeetha Vegetarian Restaurant

If you are looking for some authentic vegetarian meals in Chennai, then do not think much and visit Sangeetha Vegetarian Restaurant. Located in Gandhi Nagar, they are known for delectable food, a hygienic environment, and prompt service. Besides idli sambar, dosa, vada curry, and tomato soup are must-tries from this place.

Idli Xpress

Idli Xpress is one of the most popular places in the city to relish the softest idlis with delicious sambar. This restaurant is located in Venkateshwara Nagar and is known for its super-fast service and great ambience. Do try out the chicken curry and dosa from this eatery as well.

Mami Tiffin Stall

Located in Mylapore, this humble eatery started its journey as a small roadside mess and expanded into one of the most loved eating spots in Chennai. They serve a variety of South Indian dishes at a pocket-friendly price. Along with idli sambar, ghee podi dosa and filter coffee are also must-tries from the Mami Tiffin Stall.