Idli is one of those words that gives you pleasure just from saying it. Idli, idli, idli. It’s smooth and rhythmical and – like piddly, diddly and, of course, fiddly – a little bit silly. It ends before it has even started, it sounds complete, and is an absolute joy to mutter. And when it comes to idli-foraging in Singapore (something about that word combination really makes me want to say “Singapidli“, but I won’t…), there is no place that flies the idli flag higher, more proudly, and with more snapping in the proverbial wind than Murugan Idli Shop. It’s the sort of place that requires no introduction, but introduce it I shall. First order of business? Das logo.
I’m a big fan of Murugan’s logo. It’s a beautiful example of throwing creativity to the wind (there’s that wind again!) and coming up with the most obvious, the most simple, the most undisputable representation of what your business is all about: a vector drawing of a pile of five steaming idli’s. There’s absolutely nothing stylised about the idli’s – they’re just five slightly elliptical white circles – and the steam is just a wavy black line or two emerging triumphantly from the top. There’s something innocent, almost puerile about it. But it’s entirely ingratiating; it says “our design aesthetic – or lack thereof – doesn’t matter because we live, breath and eat idli”. It’s the kind of design that I like. Simple, unpretentious, and wonderfully hopeless; you can’t help but be charmed.
Truth be told, I’m not actually a particularly big (or small, for that matter) fan of the idli. Slightly sour and spongey, I find them them to be one of the world’s more disconcerting dough’s. Thankfully Murugan Idli Shop has a vision that transcends the humble idli, serving up a variety of other South Indian specialties as well. Such a vision is, perhaps, not surprising, given that MIS is actually a multi-national brand of idliness (that’s idli-ness, not idle-ness!). Originally from India, MIS has multiple outlets peppered throughout Tamil Nadu, and no less than three in Singapore’s Little India (Rowell Road, Race Course Road and, of course, Syed Alwi Road). The size and reach of Murugan’s idli empire impresses me deeply, and I was excited to taste its wares.
I ventured over on a Friday evening, when it turned out to be absolutely heaving. Plates clattered, servers whirled around the tables dolloping out ladles of chutney and collecting order chits; everywhere I look idli’s and other such South Indian delights were being dispatched. It was the Piccadilly Circus of South Indian dining in Singapore, and unsurprisingly I had to wait to be seated. And even after being seated I had to share a table (only because I was a lone ranger, mind), pass water jugs, and distribute glasses and serviettes amongst strangers. Whilst some may be deterred by such acts of forced friendliness, I found them to be wonderful catalysts for end-of-the-week bonhomie. Or maybe bon-idli? Or maybe not.
Despite all my blustering about “not liking idli”, I couldn’t help but order one. I’m pathetic, I know. But glad I was that I did, for Murugan’s idli (SGD 1.75) was a transformative experience. Biting into it revealed not the sour sponginess that I was expecting, but a fluffiness and moistness that turned out to be really rather pleasant. It reminded me of a little Saturn – a dense centre with a disintegrating outer ring. I’m sure a little more robustness is usually expected from these guys, but i’m a naive student when it comes to this domain and I thought they tasted good. Speaking of guys, the bloke sitting opposite me cut his idli up with a spoon and drowned it in his dal before scooping it out and shoving it down his throat. Next time i’ll do the same; what an experience that must be!
Special mention goes to the chutneys, all of which were utterly sublime. Simply incredible. Minty and coconutty and tamarindy and all-round supremely tasty. They were so good it took every fibre of my being to restrain myself from licking my leaf clean. Or from scooping them into my water cup and savouring them on the walk home.
The masala dosai (SGD 4.70) was one of the main reasons for me wanting to go to Murugan’s in the first place, especially after reading the Hungry Ang Mo’s 10/10 review. For once I agree with HAM’s judgement – this dosai was spot on, and certainly the best i’ve had in Singapore. It was a wonderful balance of density and crispness at the same time; slightly salty, I felt a little bit like I was eating a big Indian crisp (or “chip” as they would say here). The filling was rich and luxurious and sinfully ghee-full. It was painfully moreish, and made my belly feel a little distended but delightfully warm and happy at the same time. Turned out to be a good thing I didn’t swipe some extra chutney for the walk home after all…
Murugan Idli Shop: I will most definitely be back.