BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: WHY IDLI AND DOSA ARE A STAPLE IN SOUTH INDIAN CUISINE
In the sheer breadth and variety of cuisines that exist in our country, South Indian breakfast holds a special place. It's loved across India. Whether you're starting a busy day of work or ending a fun late night of concerts, you can always depend on a steaming plate of idli sambar, masala dosa, or sambar vada served with some spicy chutney. It instantly revives you with comfort and flavours.
With its popularity and all the variations in different regions of India, anybody will feel that Idli is traditional Indian food handed down across generations and millennia. But new research suggests that this may not be the case.
Although dosa and vada, the two other equally beloved South Indian breakfast delicacies, have more than 2000 years of history in India, Idli is relatively new.
What is Idli?
The very first mention of the recipe of Idli is from the 9th century AD. It was written in the Kannada writings of Shivakotiacharya's journals. But the Idli of that time was entirely different from the ones we have now, both in preparation and ingredients.
As per the writings of 10th century-poet, Chavundaraya, Idli during that time was made using a batter of:
Yes, spices were used in idlis during that time! But, the three most essential aspects of the modern Idli, i.e., namely, rice, fermentation, and steaming were missing from this ancient recipe.
Xuan Zang was a 7th-century Chinese Buddhist monk who spent many years traveling around India. According to him, Indian people neither knew the method nor had the utensils needed for the steaming idlis during his time.
KT Achaya, the legendary food historian, nutritionist, and food scientist from Karnataka proposes that the origins of Idli lie most probably in Indonesia. This is because Indonesia already had a steamed-rice dish called "kedli". This dish was quite similar to the Indian Idli during that time. The Indonesian 'kedli' followed all the usual methods of the modern idli-making process, i.e., rice, fermentation, and steaming.
The story goes that from the 7th to the 12th centuries, many Hindu kings ruled Indonesia. They used to come to India regularly on vacations to meet their relatives or find brides for themselves. These kings had chefs who traveled along with them. These chefs introduced the Indonesian recipe of kedlis to India. And thus, the modern method of preparing Idli was derived from kedli.
Today, idlis have become staple Indian breakfast food. They are very rich in nutrients and fibre, in addition to being probiotic and gluten-free. They're also low in calories and fat. Finally, they're a source of:
- Calcium, and
- Vitamin A
Idli is a wholesome meal. Idlis and dosas are typically served with sambar, a spicy seasoned concoction of vegetables. The chutneys can either be from coconuts or peanuts and sometimes even tomato. In the south, idlis and dosas are also accompanied by some karam (spicy) podi, a tan red powder full of flavours. Karam podi is made by roasting and grinding lentils on low flame.
Today you get several types of idlis across India. Some variants are:
- Rava idli
- Ragi idli
- Podi idli
- Beetroot idli
- Stuffed Idli
- Schezwan idli
- Thatte idli, and
- Chocolate idli (Yes, it's a thing!)
Today, Indians have absorbed Idli into our own cuisine and culture. In fact, they have given birth to many new and incredible variations of Idli. Kedli has indeed come a long way!
Dosa and its story
Who doesn't know or love Dosa? This South Indian crepe is widely recognized across India. Dosa is relished for the following:
- Its flavors
- The seasonings that it uses
- Its taste
- Visual appeal, and
- It's intoxicating fragrance
Usually spelled as "Dosai" or "Dosay", Dosa is eaten for breakfast, dinner, breakfast, or just as a snack in India.
Dosa has been known to be around since at least the 5th century AD in India. It is believed that the crepe was found initially in and around the Temple streets of Udipi, Karnataka. The Chalukya King Somesvara III first wrote about Dosa in Tamil literature in 1054 AD. The famous food historian K.T Achaya also suggests that Dosa was made around the 5th century in South India.
Since dosas are delicious yet light, they are very popular among diet-conscious people. Both Dosas and idlis are eaten mainly by vegetarians or those having wheat allergies. Since this South Indian delicacy is prepared using rice, it is very high in carbohydrates and low in calories. It's also excellent for those with digestion problems. A standard dosa weighs 86 grams. Yet it provides 162 calories! This is just 8% of the daily recommended intake. Dosas are also an excellent source of protein.
Ingredients used for preparing Dosa
The dosa batter is prepared by mixing rice with other lentils like:
- Idli Rice
- Chana Dal
- Urad Dal
- Methi Seeds
- Flattened Rice, and
These ingredients are then fried on the dosa tawa to make mouthwatering dosas.
What are the varieties of Dosa?
Today, you can get a wide variety of Dosa in the country, like:
- Masala Dosa
- Ghee Dosa
- Rava Dosa
- Onion Dosa
- Kal Dosa
- Paper Dosa, to name just a few.
How is Dosa served?
Dosa is typically served with extremely flavorful chutneys & sambar. These chutneys are prepared using the following ingredients:
- Fenugreek seeds
- Dal, and
Apart from the above ingredients, you can serve your dosa with delicious sambar using Alco's Sambar Masala powder. The Alco sambar masala powder help you make mouthwatering and spicy sambar without breaking into a sweat working with all the above ingredients.
Some of the popular chutneys usually served with idlis and dosas are:
- Coconut chutney
- Coriander chutney
- Pudina chutney
- Tomato chutney
- Peanut chutney, and
- Tamarind chutneys
Today, both Idli and Dosa are relished not just in India, but in several other countries including Malaysia, Singapore, and even the United Kingdom.