Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dr. Thammu Achaya and The Origins of Idli

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

2 comments:

incognito boy said...

I am Indonesian. 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 with food such as tofu, kecap, tempeh, and kue mangkok.

Francis Lobo said...

Thanks for the comment incognito boy
That was very informative.. now off to read more on this :)