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Dish Stories

Idli Sambar | इडली सांभर

Updated: Jul 30, 2018

Origin - India

#Curry #Spicy #Aromatic #Steamed #Oily #Light #Breakfast #StreetFood

Idli Sambar is a savory breakfast dish which originated in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state. Idli is a steamed spongy rice cake and when paired with a spicy and tangy Sambar (Indian lentil-based stew consisting of vegetables like carrots, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and pumpkin), it is definitely one of the most tummy filling breakfast dish you will ever eat.

India traditional food
Idli is a staple food for South Indians

Idli (/ɪdliː/) are a type of savoury rice cake, popular as breakfast foods throughout India and neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka. The cakes are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils (de-husked) and rice. The fermentation process breaks down the starches so that they are more readily metabolized by the body.

Idli have several variations, including rava idli, which are made from semolina. Regional variants include sanna of Konkan and Enduri Pitha of Odisha.

Idli was invented in karnataka around 900CE. After that,A precursor of the modern idli is mentioned in several ancient Indian works. Vaddaradhane, a 920 CE Kannada language work by Shivakotiacharya mentions "iddalige", prepared only from a black gram (urad dal) batter. Chavundaraya II, the author of the earliest available Kannada encyclopaedia, Lokopakara (c. 1025 CE), describes the preparation of this food by soaking black gram in buttermilk, ground to a fine paste, and mixed with the clear water of curd and spices. The Western Chalukya king and scholar Someshwara III, reigning in the area now called Karnataka, included an idli recipe in his encyclopedia, Manasollasa (1130 CE). This Sanskrit-language work describes the food as iḍḍarikā. The food prepared using this recipe is now called uddina idli in Karnataka.

The recipe mentioned in these ancient Indian works leaves out three key aspects of the modern idli recipe: the use of rice (not just urad dal), the long fermentation of the mix, and the steaming for fluffiness. The references to the modern recipe appear in the Indian works only after 1250 CE. Food historian K. T. Achaya speculates that the modern idli recipe might have originated in present-day Indonesia, which has a long tradition of fermented food. According to him, the cooks employed by the Hindu kings of the Indianised kingdoms might have invented the steamed idli there, and brought the recipe back to India during 800-1200 CE. Achaya mentioned an Indonesian dish called "kedli", which according to him, was like an idli. However, Janaki Lenin was unable to find any recipe for an Indonesian dish by this name.

The Gujarati work Varanaka Samuchaya (1520 CE) mentions idli as idari, and also mentions its local adaption idada (a non-fermented version of dhokla). The earliest extant Tamil work to mention idli (as itali) is Maccapuranam, dated to the 17th century.


Sambar, also spelled sambhar or sambaar, is a lentil-based vegetable stew or chowder cooked with a tamarind broth originating from the Indian subcontinent. It is popular in South Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil cuisines.

One of the stories is that it originated in the kitchen of Thanjavur Marathas ruler Shahuji during the 17th century from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Shahuji, trying to make a dish called amti, experimented with pigeon peas instead of mung beans and tamarind pulp for kokum. The court named it sambhar after the guest of the day, Sambhaji, second emperor of the Maratha Empire.

Other sources point to sambar's originating in Karnataka, where sambaru padartha in Kannada means “mix of spices and condiments”. There is also an alternate explanation that the origin of the name is from the old Tamil word chaampu, meaning “ground” or “paste”, in the context of grinding coconut and spices to be dissolved in tamarind pulp. This word is also the root for the unrelated South East Asian dish sambol.

The word sambar (old Tamil:Champaar - சாம்பார்) stems from Tamil word Champaaram (சம்பாரம்) meaning “spicy condiments”. Chambaram kootu (சம்பாரங்கூட்டு) and chambaram podi (சம்பாரப்பொடி) means “sambar powder”.

A Tamil inscription of 1530 CE evidences the use of the word champaaram, in the sense of meaning a dish of rice accompanying other rice dishes or spice ingredients with which a dish of vegetable rice is cooked:

“அமுதுபடி கறியமுது பல சம்பாரம் நெய்யமுதுள்ப்பட தளிகை ஒன்றுக்கு பணம் ஒன்றாக”

Amuthupadi ka’riyamuthu pala champaaram neyyamuthu’lppada tha’likai on’rukku pa’nam on’raak.

Meaning: “Cooked rice offerings, including spiced rice (pepper rice or vegetable rice), many types of spiced rice (pala champaaram) and ghee rice, at the rate of one pa’nam (a denomination of money) per one portion.”

Ka'riyamuthu pala champaaram, as a compound phrase, could also mean “vegetable rice prepared with many spices”.


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