History and Origin of Idli – A humble dish with a rich history is probably the best way to describe this dish. You guessed it right, we’re talking about Idli. In this article, we’ll take you through the origin of idli, it’s evolution as well as some other basic information. At the end of this article, you’ll find some fun facts that we’ve included about this dish that is loved not only by Indians, but also throughout the world.
What is Idli?
Idli is a type of rice cake that is eaten as a meal or snack throughout India. It is made by steaming a batter made of rice and washed black lentil (urad dal). Idli has many variations, the most famous being the Rava Idli, which is made from semolina. Idli can also be made from other kinds of cereals and lentils.
Idli – Is it of Indian origin? – History and Origin of Idli
According to India’s food historian, K.T. Achaya, idli may have its origins in Indonesia. In his book “A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food,” he stated that in the 7th century, India did not have a steaming vessel. He also suggests that Indonesia’s “kedli”, a similar steamed cake, was the predecessor of the Indian idli. There is mention of another similar Indonesian dish “Bura”, which is essentially a rectangular rice cake cooked in coconut milk that is served with spicy coconut powder.
In his book, he has mentioned many historical links between the rulers and traders of Southeast Asia and South India which may have led to introduction of idli in India. In the Sanskrit Manasollasa, the word ‘Iddarika’ is mentioned which is a dish made with urad dal.
The evolution of a humble dish through the years – History and Origin of Idli
The process of the modern idli is described in various ancient Indian works. Idli was reportedly invented between 800-1200 CE. The earliest mention of Idli occurs in a Kannada book, Vaddaradhane which was written by Shivakotiacharyathe in 920 AD. The book mentions “iddalige”, prepared only from a black gram batter.
The earliest available Kannada encyclopedia, Lokopakara describes the preparation of idli by soaking black gram in buttermilk, making it a fine paste, mixed with the clear water of curd and spices. The king of Western Chalukya, King Someshwara III in Karnataka, included idli in his encyclopedia Manasollasa. In 1235 in Karnataka, the Idli was described as light cake which is not suggestive of a rice base.
In the 17th century, Tamilians first made references to the modern-day idli; it was then referred to as ‘Itali’.
Must read: Five famous food items of Tamil Nadu
What is Idli eaten with? – History and Origin of Idli
Idli is traditionally eaten with coconut chutney, rasam and sambar. Each of the South Indian states have added their own twists to these accompaniments like different kinds of chutneys as well as different versions of the authentic sambar.
Here are some fun facts about Idli –
- World Idli Day is celebrated on the 30 of March every year.
- There are various types of idlis including Rice Idli, Rava Idli. Moreover, idlis are prepared in various ways like fried idli, chocolate idli, and many more.
- Many people prepare idli with ragi, various millets or parboiled rice replacing the regular white rice.
- Idli doesn’t have many calories and has high amount of digestive power. Dietitians suggest eating Idli regularly in a breakfast for weight loss.
- Rava Idli was invented during time of World War II in Karnataka. During World War II, when rice was in short supply, people of Karnataka experimented making idli using semolina and created Rava Idli.
- According to the Defence Food Research Laboratory, they have developed special idlis named ‘Space Idlis’ with a chutney powder and sambar powder that can be packed for astronauts going to space.