Saturday, April 28, 2007

The origin of Idli

Read "Idli Saga:A study into the origin of the South Indian dish" in the April 28th edition of "The Economic Times". The article basically says iDli or iDDalige originally a Karnataka dish, mentioned in the10th century works, was taken to Indonesia by South Indian traders and there it gave rise to many fermented dishes like kedli. Of course, the author of that column quotes a bit different story from the research work of K T Acharya.

11 comments:

bachodi said...

Thanks for this .. good find.
Can you link me to KT acharya's research ?
By the way , welcome back to blogosphere.

Manjunath said...

Bachodi:
I don't have a link to K T Acharya's study. I just mentioned that the author of that article quotes from K T Acharya's research. But on searching I found this.

Ravi Mundkur said...

Thanks for finding reference on idlis.Iddalige. iddarika and kedli are interesting cousins of idlis.

Mugil said...

I would beg to differ here. Author seems to be supporting kannada at the most. Idli ..itself not an right word. It is called as Puttu or Pittu and thats how its called in Tamil and Old Kannada. I am a speaker of OLD Kannada[there is a big OLD Kannada Community residing in Tamil Nadu] in which oldest tamil words are still being used by us. And whole of the community believes that Tamil as the root for kannada because they know the tamil Grammar very well and its very easy for us to compare the words and their origin.

Manjunath said...

mugil:
Author seems to be supporting kannada at the most.

I don't think so. He clearly says that Idli originated from similar dish in Indonesia. Now, the merchants who went to South-East Asia must have been from East coast. And I believe that makes Tamil region to be the first one get acquainted with a dish similar to Idli. Probably, when the Pallavas attacked Chalukyas in Karnataka they introduced Idli in here.

Now, you say it is called 'puttu' in your Kannada. That probably gives clue for spread of the term Idli from the region of Kannada to Tamil Nadu.

You might be knowing puttu is a very popular dish made out of rice floor. So, initially, even Idli might have been called 'puttu' in Tamil because of similar ...what can I say... structure. In Kannada region a new term was coined for the dish...because there is/was no puttu in that region.

However, this term gained popularity all over south India very soon. Therefore, there is no direct relationship between the term 'idli' and the dish idli'.

Even though you claim to speak 'old Kannada', I believe your community moved to Tamil region around middle Kannada period(Vijayanagara period). But 'itali' appears in Tamil 2 centuries later. Probably, your forefathers might have taken up Tamil word.

Ravi Mundkur said...

Manju
Do you believe that "idli " came from the Indonesian "kedli"? Could it be the other way round? That is, the "Iddli " travelled to Indonesia and metamorphosed into "kedli".
"Iddalige"cited ealier, appears in one story of "Vaddaradhane", an old Kannada text estimated to be of 9 to 10th C AD.
Many old words appearing in the Vaddaradhane,but extint now in modern Kannada, are existing still in Tulu even now.Like "muttukadi","baikam"(->Baikampadi) etc.So I am hinting that old Kannada and Tulu shared many words at that time;maybe they also shared rice dishes like iddli(<-iddalige). We are handicapped by the absence of Tulu texts dating back to 10th C. AD or older ones.
Compare this with the numerous leaf based steam cooked Tulu rice dishes similar to iddli in technology.However it is difficult to trace the antiquity of these leaf-wraped precursors of iddlis.
Since,leafy vessels are more primitive designs than the more modern iddli cooking vessels, I would like to suggest that these Tulu disheslike moode,gunda,kotte etc., were the actual ancestors of the modern iddlis.

Manjunath said...

Ravi:
Since,leafy vessels are more primitive designs than the more modern iddli cooking vessels,I would like to suggest that these Tulu disheslike moode,gunda,kotte etc., were the actual ancestors of the modern iddlis.

Indeed, that is a strong argument in favour of native origin of idli. However, I am not aware of arguments put forth by the author to conclude that idli was derived from Indonesian dish. I have not read the book.

"Iddalige"cited ealier, appears in one story of "Vaddaradhane", an old Kannada text estimated to be of 9 to 10th C AD.

South India had trade relationship with SE Asian countries long before that. Trading during Pallava (peak 6-8th century CE) period, I suppose, is well documented.

Anyway, the first appearance of the term in the literature need not mean the origin of the dish around that time.

Senthil said...

I came across this article it seems to dwell on the same topic with much more info.


http://controversialhistory.blogspot.com/2008/09/origin-of-idly.html

Manjunat said...

Thank you Senthil. That article is a good compilation of many sources.

But I think the person should be careful while compiling otherwise s/he would make contradictory statements like this:

"The first appearance of the term in the literature need not mean the origin of the dish around that time, so the origin of this delicious dish has to be karnataka. So Idli is defintely a Karnataka dish."

Anonymous said...

I am an Indonesian. Various sources on the Internet mention that fermentation has not been popular in Indian cuisine since a long time ago. Can you please mention other Indian food which involves fermentation other than idli? Well, it will be ridiculous to have an idea that India introduced fermented food to Indonesia. What happened is vice versa. The technique of fermentation came to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries thanks to Chinese traders who introduced tofu (fermented soy batter), ketchup (originally fermented fish sauce), and fermented soy cake 2000 years ago. Interestingly in case of soy bean fermentation, Javanese people in Indonesia developed their own leavening agent, the Rhizopus mold, to suit with the tropical climate which later functions as the basis of making tempeh, Indonesian soy cake. The word ketchup is from Malay word kecap (same pronunciation) borrowed when the British occupied Malaysia in the 17th century and the change of ingredient into tomato followed later in the modern USA. The idea that modern idli is based on Indonesian recipe makes sense. Although in Indonesia we have lost kedli, something we don’t even know its existence, Indonesians do have a traditional fermented rice cake called kue mangkok (bowl cake). It is named so because it is steamed actually in various shapes of small cups, not bowls, involves rice batter, fermentation, and steaming. So, Indonesian cuisine has been familiar with fermentation for centuries in food such as tofu, kecap, tempeh, and kue mangkok. What do you think?

Manhun(ಮಂಞುನ್/മഞ്ഞുന്‌) said...

Anonymous from Indonesia:
Thank you very much for your useful inputs. I wasn't serious when I said Idli was an Indian dish (you can check my comments). The author whom I referenced basically says it's based on a similar Indonesian dish.

But it appears earlier form of idli was made from fermented black gram only. Rice was added to the batter some three-four centuries ago. I guess if at all there was an influence from Indonesia it should be in the idea of 'fermentation' of batter. Southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have a non-fermented rice cake (puttu).

There are many fermented dishes mostly in the South India and western India (which I guess was due to the politico-cultural influence of southern India).