The Humble Idli’s Indonesian Origins: Read About The History
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The South Indian delicacy of idli – which is most popularly known as the South Indian breakfast staple – is the cornerstone of a nutritious breakfast. However, as a dish most associated with being South Indian, the idli has South East Asian origins, which is an unusual and intriguing idea. Although the state of Tamil Nadu has early documentations of the delicacy 17th century onwards, famous food historian KT Acharya mentions in his research that chances are that the idli arrived from Indonesia, which was believed to have been a Hindu kingdom until the 13th century.

The dynasties of Shailendra, Isyana and Sanjaya hired people from India to cook in the royal kitchens and staff their homes back in the day, when a preparation known as kedli was said to be quite popular among the staff and rulers. Legend has it that the Indian cooks, who found the delicacy to be something of a revelation, brought the recipe back home with them. Some sources also suggest that the idli was introduced to the subcontinent by Indonesian kings, who often paid a visit to the country to maintain trade and diplomatic relationships.

Another theory that surrounds where the idli came from involves the need for halal food by the Arab traders, who then came up with the recipe for a flattened rice ball to eat on their quests. A version of the idli – known as iddalage – also features in scriptures written between the 9th and 13th centuries – like the 920 CE Kannada text by Shivakotiacharya, known as Vaddaradhane. In addition to this, the king Someshara III also wrote about a certain iddarika in the 1130 CE which talks about a version of idli that was made using black gram and buttermilk, instead of rice. This ancient recipe did not employ fermentation as a technique and neither steamed the batter for fluffy idlis.

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This holds true from the written texts by popular Chinese explorer Xuanzang, who mentioned in his memoirs that steaming was a technique that India hadn’t adopted in practice. That said, although Tamil Nadu did not write about idlis until the 17th century, dosas were consumed by the people of the state since the 1st century – proof of which is heavily documented in Sangam Tamil literature.