The Curious case of the Millennial and the Buckwheat Idli

Not really about idlis in particular or food in general, but with ample food references nevertheless.

“I’m making buckwheat idlis for dinner.” my friend in Delhi told me over the phone. “They’re gluten-free. Yesterday I made oat idlis. They’re simple to make, really. I just buy the stuff from Nature’s Basket and pop it in the steamer.”

“Are you allergic to gluten?” I asked.

“Well, no… but gluten makes you bloat, na? I don’t know, I feel better after having buckwheat.” she said.

“Yes, but you could just have regular idlis made from.. well, rice. Rice is gluten-free.”

*Pause on the other end.*

“Of course, kuttu works just fine too.” I quickly continued. “So does nachni, or ragi which is easily available at any ration store this side of the country. Again gluten-free.”

“Ohh yea”, goes my friend, “I’ve heard of kuttu. My mom often eats it while fasting.”

“Sweetie, kuttu is buckwheat.”

“Riiight.”

Why am I relaying the flippant tidbits of my telephonic exchange here? To drive a point, or two, of course.

First being that Indian millennials, like other millennials, (myself included) though quick to adapt to global food fads, might tend to use a ‘superfood’ as an easy alternative to a balanced diet or exercise. More importantly, as is often the danger with little knowledge; in not comprehending the fad in its entirety, may cause anguish to said millennial wallet or gut.

Which leads me to my next point- and in enters the creative license, one of the few glories of this pseudo world of penmanship – so hear me out.

I believe that we millennials are akin to that buckwheat idli.

What in the world does that mean, you ask? Why is a generation of future CEOs being compared to fermented, steamed and savory UFOs which happen to be *insert buzzword* gluten-free; the artist formerly known in non-Michelin circles as the ‘idli’?

You might think it’s because I’m calling millennials pretentious. Look, we love our non-fat Frappuccinos with extra whipped cream but that doesn’t mean… okay so maybe we are pretentious, just a little bit. But come on, after fashion and fitness it was but natural progression for food to be the next ‘it’ thing.

Am I labeling this generation as one that apes the West?  Well again, and I say this often, one can’t ape what one grew up with. We watched Cartoon Network fervently till we were dragged to bed, even when we didn’t quite get who Boogie Man was or how Johnny Bravo worked his charm on women. We celebrated the first McDonalds opening and cuddled Happy Meal toys to sleep. We followed Gossip Girl, making sense of prom nights and first dates; traditions alien to our cultural norms. America had taken over our childhood like the MSG in our instant noodles: we didn’t even realize it was there.

Or am I saying we are an unpatriotic lot? Now that’s an interesting question. Most would believe that this cohort of ‘Netflix-and-chill-and-struggling-with-bills’ has little concern with society, let alone the country. But are we really nation agnostic? The slow but steady return of NRIs for reasons ranging from family and food to jobs and social service would beg to disagree. But to truly understand patriotic emotions one should turn to a destination the millennial loves most of all; the unlimited bhel puri of buffets that is the internet. From Modi memes to AIB videos on lavish desi weddings and perverted flight passengers, it’s our unique way of professing love to our nation. Embracing the weird, wacky and nostalgic that is India somehow celebrates us in totality while justifying the imperfections we hang onto so dearly. And it’s so much easier than actually waking up to watch the R-Day parade.

I guess what I’m saying is that the buckwheat idli (not kuttu, mind you, buckwheat) has been born in a different time, a time of low attention spans and an even lower tolerance for mistakes. It is an updated edition, one that works hard to stay fit and relevant but at the same time need to stay true to itself. It values authenticity above all else, albeit in a time where a whatsapp birthday wish is acceptable but FOMO is not. It is well aware of its heritage, even if the Independence struggle stories passed down are as secondhand as Ron Weasley’s dress robes.

But being another ‘idli’ in the crowd is not going to cut it. It has to keep up with this mind-boggling, neck-breaking, gluten-intolerant supernova that is the 21st century. Even if it means coming off as pretentious once in a while.

I guess what I’m saying is that the buckwheat idli is just a regular idli trying to be the best version of itself.

You got ALL this from a phone conversation, you say? Okay, so maybe I take my creative license seriously. As for us millennials, cut us some sambar… err slack. And make it a grande non-fat gluten-free.

In memory of Tarla Dalal, here’s the recipe.

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