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History of Idli: Did Arabian Traders Invented in Fear of Offending Religious Laws? Striking Mystery!



South Indian dish…ummm? One of the first images that prick our minds is that of the white fluffy Idlis served with coconut chutney or sambar. A perfect meal for breakfast that's equally healthy, light and tasty.


The idli has made a place from our kitchens to the street corners and then even in lucrative restaurants. The Idlis have become the iconic symbol of South Indian culture. However, more striking is the mystery regarding the origin of this healthy delicacy.


Origin of Idli:

Although both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have made claims of being the original birthplace of idlis, many food historians believe that idlis originally originated from the islands of Indonesia.


Shivakotiacharya in his Kannada language work of 920 CE, Vaddaradhane mentions a recipe prepared from black gram butter, known as iddaliage. The earliest Kannada encyclopedia Lokapakara by Chavundarya contains a description of the preparation of this food. Someshwara lll, the Chalukyan ruler and scholar provided preparation of idli in his encyclopedia, Manasollasa.


The name of the food in this Sanskrit text is iddarika. However these earlier documentaries of the idli preparation lack three aspects of the contemporary idli making- the use of rice blended with urad dals, the fermentation of the mixture, and the art of making it fluffy by steaming the batter.


For some food scholars, idli had seemingly arrived in India from Indonesia. The islands were ruled by Indian Hindu dynasties, namely, Ishayana, Sanjaya, and Shailendra dynasty. The cooks of the royal kitchen prepared a dish called kedli, which, by and large, was similar to idli. The cooks probably returned India with this recipe and gave birth to the modern form of idli.


The contradiction regarding the origin doesn't end here. There are studies that prove that probably the idli has an Arabian background. The Arabs had regular contact with the Southern parts of India.


Also Read: Invention of Butter: Perfect Example of How an Accident Created a History


Food historian Collingham, with reference to evidence available Al- Azhar University Library in Cairo, has debated that the Arabian traders after they settled in India, started having plain rice balls in the fear of offending the religious laws.


They were strict about the food laws and would go for only halal food. So the rice balls were kind of a safe option and they used to eat them with white coconut chutney.


The taste was quite dissimilar from that of idli. There were some innovations of the dish that were added in the recent past. The blending of the urad dal and the fermentation of the mixture are some of these new innovations.


The earliest Tamil work has a reference of idli mentioned as Maccapuranam, dated back to 17th century. The idli has some kind of Gujarati adaptation. The Gujarati book Varnaka Samuccaya has a mention of idli with the name idara. There is a mention of its local variant too, that goes with the label idada, a kind of non- fermented dhokla.


Whatever may be the origin, idli tends to be the healthiest choice for a breakfast. In this day and age when counting calories and taste in your food are having a tug of war, idli manages to provide you both, without even a pinch in your pocket.


Up Next: History of Sandwich: Colonial Past that Most Patriotic Americans Wanted to Forget


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