Murugan Idli Shop, Farrer Park: Come for the idlis, stay for the dosai

Nicole Lam
·5-min read

Ever since I watched Priya Krishna make her one-minute idli in her tiny New York kitchen, I was both intrigued and fascinated by this South Indian breakfast item. Of course, there is no shame with her using instant idli mix; a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to get her idli. After all, making idlis from scratch is a rather arduous process that requires blending, fermenting, and steaming.

Exterior of Murugan Idli Shop
Exterior of Murugan Idli Shop

As much as I do love to cook and experiment, I’d like to try one of the best we have before attempting to make my very own idli. A simple Google search brought me to Murugan Idli Shop along Syed Alwi Road that comes with many glowing Google reviews. It’s always power to the people, and two thousand people can’t be all wrong.

I made my way down to Murugan Idli Shop on a ferociously sweltering afternoon, so I was immensely grateful that the restaurant was air-conditioned and relatively empty at the time.

Like any well-worn establishment that has enjoyed years of success, Murugan Idli Shop is unlike the new-fangled, trendy restaurants that have come out of the woodwork as of late. There were no colour-coordinated interiors conceptualised on mood boards. No, it’s unabashed in its simplicity and functionality, so much so that it’s endearing to a fault.

What I tried

I sit down, and you’re given a list of their menu items which you tick off the ones you want, à la dim sum-style. At the risk of ordering everything at once, I make sure to check off some idlis, dosai, vadai, and throw in a mango lassi for good measure.

Then, a plate lined with a banana leaf with various chutneys is placed before you. After that, all you have to do is wait patiently for the goods to arrive.

Idli on plate
Idli on plate

The Idli (S$1.75) came first, snowy white and steaming. Unlike Priya’s microwave idlis, these were at least twice their size and chubby little saucers. I tear them off tentatively and pop some in my mouth. It’s fresh and pillowy with the slight tang you get from the fermentation process. It’s comforting in the same way you’d appreciate congee or tofu, where the purity of the ingredients takes centre stage.

Idli dipped on chutney
Idli dipped on chutney

Of course, you can’t have idli without chutney, and at Murugan Idli Shop, you have your Mint, Coriander and Groundnut chutney. This part is down to personal preference how you like your idli. I rather enjoyed the controversial Coriander for that herbaceous burst.

Another thing that you have to try is Murugan’s dosai. Probably one of the more recognisable South Indian dishes, dosai is another dish made with a fermented batter. You’ll know the one, a large, crispy crepe that’s undeniably satisfying. Just like the idlis, my dosais came hot and straight off the grill.

Butter Dosai on a plate
Butter Dosai on a plate

It’s a rather sizable roll that comes with toasty, friable edges, and a slightly thicker, chewy centre. I had both the Dosai (S$3.60) and the Butter Dosai (S$3.80), and while I enjoyed both, I enjoyed the Butter Dosai just a little more.

Meduvadai from Murugan Idli Shop
Meduvadai from Murugan Idli Shop

You know me, I have a rather torrid love affair with all things vadai. After my vadai showdown, I’ve made it a point to have vadai any time I can. There are a couple of varieties available, the Meduvadai (S$1.75), Masalvadai (S$2.50) and Sambarvadai (S$2.50). After riding such a high Murugan’s dosai and idlis, I was sorely disappointed with their vadai.

With the classic Meduvadai, it was not the springy, airy delight I was used to. This one was a little coarser and drier than I would have liked—a texture that did not make all the calories worth it. While I had higher hopes for the Masalvadai, they were dashed when I took a bite.

Cross-section of Masalvadai
Cross-section of Masalvadai

Understandably, the Masalvadai requires a little more finesse than the Meduvadai. A batter made with coarsely ground chana dal, you’ll want to make sure the batter is not weighed down too heavily by those legumes. Here, my Masalvadai might have spent too long in the oil, and the result is a hard and dry fritter.

A rather dismal showing of vadai, but perhaps it’s not Murugan Idli Shop’s strong suit because their Ghee Uttappam (S$1.75) managed to put them back in my good graces once more.

Another iteration of dosa, the uttappam, is slightly thicker and more pancake-like. I tore at the fluffy, glistening edges, wondering whether I hit my carb intake for the day. These are the kinds of questions you’ll want to ask yourself when you’re at Murugan Idli Shop.

Final thoughts

Indeed, an afternoon at Murugan Idli Shop is a celebration of how much fermentation plays a role in Asian cuisine. The art of fermentation, as many would think, is not a wholly Western tradition. However, the popularity of sourdough has undoubtedly made it seem that way. Just off the top of my head, there’s kimchi, miso, and many more that are not given the same attention as flashy sourdough.

There is much to explore and appreciate when it comes to the art of fermentation, and Murugan Idli Shop serves as an excellent introduction.

Expected damage: S$4 – S$8 per pax

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