While on the quest of the origins of Gobi Manchurian I hit upon this old "The Hindu" article which talks about the origins of Idli. Surprisingly, this - pride of South India - is not South Indian uhm well it is not even Indian!
The Gastronome scientist- Thammu Achaya digs out, your favourite Idli came to India all the way from Indonesia somewhere around 8th to 12th century AD.
Here is the verbatim extract of the Idli section of the article:
[ Image taken from wikimedia commons : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Idli_Sambar.JPG ]
"In Box 19 of his Indian Food: A Historical Companion, on the snacks of the South, he first points out that while early Tamil Sangam literature talks of Dosai, reference to Idli comes only after 920 AD. Even as late as the 17th century, the Indian Idli missed three elements of its modern version — use of rice grits, fermentation overnight and steaming of the batter. Steaming is an ancient Chinese method and Xuan Zang, the Chinese traveller to India in the 7th century, says that India did not have a steaming vessel. Apparently, cooks who accompanied the Hindu kings of Indonesia during their visits home during the 8th to 12th centuries AD brought fermentation techniques with them, as also perhaps steaming methods and vessels."
Interesting, isn't it?!
More interesting to me was knowing about Dr. Thammu Achaya - The Food Scientist, Historian, Painter, Musician.. whew the renaissance man :)
More about Thammu saar:
Thammu Achaya — tribute to a gastronome scientist- The Hindu article
An obituary from Indian Academy of Sciences [PDF]
Food, his story - an Indian Express article