Discover the history, myths and legends of the Indian rice dishes Khichri, Byriani, Kheer, Dosa & Idlly.

If you enjoy doing riddles, try this one:

What is cooked in earth that’s nice

Cooked in wood will fetch good price

Turns into sweetmeats if cooked thrice?

The answer is rice. Rice can be cooked in earthenware pots, in bamboo tubes, and can be made into sweetmeats in special preparations cooked up to three times.

In this Article

The daily rice while travelling in India is never boring, it comes

  • plain boiled,
  • khichri or pongal (rice cooked with mung beans),
  • pullao o byriani (fried rice), and
  • kheer (rice pudding).

In the South for breakfast you get steamed idlly– rice muffins and dosa– crispy rice pancakes.

I ate Khichri, Byriani, Kheer, Dosa & Idlly served on a banana leaf, a plate, or a metal tray, and have always eaten this delicacy with the hands, hold on- maybe I used a spoon for the kheer.

Legends of rice dishes Khichri, Byriani, Kheer, Dosa & Idlly collected by Pal Sanchari.

In the Puranas it is said:

During the Great Flood all animals and plants were drowned.

Manu alone survived. The storing characteristics of rice helped him keep alive for he kept two cereals, unhusked rice and barley, in his boat. Both cereals have a hard husk and that, protected them from spoilage on the long journey.

The south Indian idli and dosa appear to have conquered the world. To make them, parboiled rice and urad dal paste are mixed in a three to one ratio. The mixture is left to ferment overnight. That is why idlis are light and fluffy.

At south Indian feasts there are dozens of rice preparations-plain rice, lemon rice, tamarind rice, curd rice, coconut rice, vegetable rice, sweet rice seasoned with kewara and dry fruit.

Then there are a variety of kheers- the most popular is made by boiling rice in milk and adding a sprinkle of almonds and raisins. Rice cooked in sugarcane juice is a particular favorite of some people.

khichri or pongal (rice cooked with mung beans),

Khichdi or Khichri

Excerpted from: Kahani Khichdi Ki: Tracing the Origins of India’s Fave One-Pot Meal. When and how did khichdi become such an iconic and integral part of Indian cuisine

Khichdi (North India), Bissi Bhelle Bhaath (Karnataka; rest of the South), Mujadarrah (Lebanese), Kung Pao (Chinese), Koshari (Egyptian).

Food often tends to reflect the history and culture of the land where it was first created and khichdi is a prime example of this. Essentially a fragrant potpourri of rice, lentils or beans and spices, this mellow dish can be found in kitchens all over India in various avatars.

In Gujarat, khichdi is eaten with a bowl of lightly spiced kadhi (a yoghurt-based) curry; whereas Tamil Nadu’s ven pongal is liberally laced with ghee.While the Himachali version of this rice-dal medley is loaded with kidney beans and chickpeas, Karnataka’s fiery bisi bele hulianna has delicious additions such as tamarind, jaggery, seasonal veggies, curry leaves, dried coconut and kapok buds.

In West Bengal, bhog’er khichuri is a staple at Durga Puja pandals and is served with a mishmash of leafy greens and vegetables (called lyabra). At the home of khaddoroshik (food-loving Bengali), its the pulao-like bhuni khichuri (studded with assorted vegetables and served with deep fried fish) that rules.

So when and how did khichdi become such an iconic and integral part of Indian cuisine? Here’s the fascinating story.

According to historian Mohsina Mukadam, khichdi is “one of the most ancient foods in India, yet one that has hardly changed.” Its name has its origins in the Sanskrit word khiccā, which translates to ‘a dish made with rice and pulses’. The gastronomic literature of ancient India also has many mentions of the krusaranna, an early relative of khichdi that had ingredients such as curd and sesame seeds.

Ibn Batuta, the famous Moroccan traveller who visited India in the 14th century, wrote, “Munj is boiled with rice, then buttered and eaten. This is what they call Kishri, and on this, they breakfast every day.”

The mighty Mughals too fell in love with this rice-dal staple and gave it an important place in the imperial menus of medieval India. There are several historical references to Akbar’s penchant for khichdi.

In fact, Abu Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari mentions several versions of the khichdi prepared in the imperial kitchen, including ones with saffron, strong spices and dry fruits.

Also, according to India’s celebrated food historian KT Achaya (in his book The Story of our Food), Jahangir’s was so fond of a spicy khichdi adaptation (enriched with pistachios and raisins) that he named it “lazeezan”- “the delicious”. Jahangir’s role in popularizing khichdi also finds a mention in the travel chronicles of Athanasius Nikitin, a Russian merchant who travelled to 14th century India. Furthermore, French traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who came to India six times during the 1600s, also wrote about khichdi (of green lentils, rice and ghee) being a popular evening meal. Even Aurangzeb, who rarely paid attention to food, was fond of the Alamgiri Khichdi, a spin-off featuring fish and boiled eggs. Later, during the colonial era, this version of khichdi would go on to be called kedgeree by the British who took this recipe back to their country.

Such interesting experiment with khichdi was not limited to the regal repasts of the Mughals. In the 19th century, Nawab of Awadh Nasir-ud-din Shah’s dastarkhwan (royal kitchen) was famous for it ingenious raqabdar (royal chef) who would make an outrageously extravagant khichdi entirely from pistachios and almonds painstakingly cut to resemble the grains of lentils and rice respectively.

Another variant of khichdi that found prominence in the cuisine of Uttar Pradesh (erstwhile Awadh) was the piquant amla khichdi. Made using rice, kali dal (split black gram) and amla (Indian gooseberries), the dish gradually became inextricably linked with the festival of Makar Sankranti.

In Kashmir, khichdi was traditionally offered as sacrificial food to local deities on Khetsimavas (a festival in December) while the locals typically enjoyed it (and still do) with kadam ka achaar (pickled knol khol). In the adjoining states of Himachal and Uttarakhand, two distinctly-flavoured dishes — balaee (made with bengal gram, roasted coriander and buttermilk) and Garhwali khichdi (made with urad dal, sesame seeds and warming spices) respectively — were being concocted.

Down south, the imperial chefs of Hyderabadi Nizams had created the unique keeme ki khichdi — a spice-laden mix of rice, lentils and minced meat that was served with sour and soupy khatta. Karnataka’s feted bisi bele bhat, on the other hand, is believed to have originated in the kitchen of the Wadiyar rulers of Mysore.

The state of Tamil Nadu was where other spectacular renditions of khichdi took place on the form of ven pongal for the Pongal festival and its many equally-scrumptious forms, such as the classic khara pongal, the fiery milagu pongal and the sweet jaggery-infused sakkarai pongal.

How to make Khichdi


1 cup Rice
1/4 cup Moong dal
/2- 1 tsp jeera
1/2-1 tsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp pepper powdered fresh
A few Cashewnuts broken
1/2 cup dessicated Coconut
A pinch of Turmeric powder


Fry the Moongdal a little till you get a light flavour.
Mix the dal with the rice, add 2 -3 cups of water (the rice should cook very very soft)
Add turmeric powder, coconut, a few peppercorns and a 1-2 tsp of ghee to the rice and pressure cook till done.
When done, take a kadai add sufficient of Ghee to it, more the ghee better it tastes, add jeera, pepper corns and cashewnuts.
Add the cooked rice mixture, add pepper powder, salt and mix well with the ghee and jeera/cashewnuts.

You can add some more ghee at the end if you need. It is best eaten fresh and Hot.

You can serve it with Coconut Chutney, or Onion/Tomato Raita.

In Bengal, elaborate versions of the traditional khichuri such as til khichuri (made with sesame seed paste and saffron), malai bhuni kichuri (made with coconut milk and bak-tulsi variety of rice) and khejurer khichuri (made syrup-soaked dates, nuts and thick cream) were being fine-tuned. However, it was the niramish khichuri — a no onion, no garlic recipe made of sona moong dal, rice and assorted veggies — that became one of the most treasured components of Bengal’s festival cuisine, especially during Durga Puja.

The West too had its own khichdi evolution going on. Delicious adaptions, such as the spicy Ram khichdi from Kathiwar (with a medley of local veggies) and the milder sola khichdi from Surat (with minced meat and fresh cream), were taking shape in Gujarat. In neighbouring Rajasthan, the subtly spiced khichdis that replaced rice with millets or whole wheat were popular while in Maharashtra, it was the tangy valachi khichdi (made with field beans, groundnuts and grated coconut).

The kitchens of the food-loving Parsis also spawned a few unusual interpretations of khichdi, such as the Bharuchi vaghareli khichdi (made using marinated and fried Bombay duck, a kind of fish) and the kolmi ni khichdi (made with prawns and coconut milk).

Today, with every region having its own take on this classic dish, it won’t be an understatement to call khichdi India’s version of culinary comfort. From serving as a baby’s first meal and gruel for the sick to a deeply satisfying lunch on a rainy day, this versatile dish effortlessly lends itself to diverse occasions.

Little wonder that khichdi has become an integral part of both India’s gastronomic heritage and colloquial stories. Enjoy the story of How Birbal used khichdi to make Akbar learn to hold his word. The exchanges between Akbar and Birbal have become folk stories in Indian tradition.

It was winter time. The ponds were frozen.

At the court, Akbar asked Birbal, “Tell me Birbal! Will a man do anything for money?”
Birbal replied, “Yes” .

The emperor ordered “Prove it !”.

The day after, Birbal came to the court along with a poor Brahmin.
He merely had a penny left with him. His family was starving.

Birbal told the king, “The Brahmin would do anything for the sake of money, Sir!”

Akbar asked the Brahmin to be inside the almost frozen pond throughout the night without any attire ,if at all he needed the money.

The poor Brahmin had no choice. That night he remained inside in side the almost frozen pond, shivering.
He returned to the durbar the next day and requested for his reward.

Akbar asked him, with disbelief writ large in his eyes.
“Tell me Oh Brahmin!”
“How could you withstand the extreme temperature all through the night?”

The poor Brahmin was afraid of the King’s wrath.
He replied “Your Majesty…I could see a faintly glowing light nearly one kilometer away and I withstood with the heat of that ray of light.”

Akbar refused to pay the Brahmin any reward saying that he got warmth from the light and that is why he could withstand the cold, which amounted to cheating. The poor Brahmin could not argue with him. He returned disappointed. Birbal tried to convince the king but the king was not in a mood to listen.

After this, Birbal stopped coming to the court and sent a messenger to the king saying that he would come to the court only after his khichadi was cooked.

As Birbal did not turn up even after about a week, Akbar himself went to Birbal’s house to see was going on. Birbal had lit a fire but kept the pot of the uncooked khichdi one meter away from it.

Akbar questioned him “How will the khichdi get cooked when the fire was 1 meter away?
“What went wrong with you Birbal?”
asked he.

Birbal, cooking the khichdi, answered
“Oh the great King of India! When it was possible for a person to receive heat and warmth from a tiny source of light that was 1 kilometer away, then it is possible for this khichdi, to cook from a source of heat which is just a meter away !”


Though it may appear to be a dish indigenous to India, in reality the dish originated quite far away. Biryani is derived from the Persian word Birian, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and Birinj, the Persian word for rice. While there are multiple theories about how biryani made its way to India, it is generally accepted that it originated in West Asia.

pullao o byriani (fried rice)
pullao o byriani (fried rice)

One legend has it that the Turk-Mongol conqueror, Timur, brought the precursor to the biryani with him when he arrived at the frontiers of India in 1398. Believed to be the war campaign diet of Timur’s army, an earthen pot full of rice, spices and whatever meats were available would be buried in a hot pit, before being eventually dug up and served to the warriors.

Another legend has it that the dish was brought to the southern Malabar coast of India by Arab traders who were frequent visitors there. There are records of a rice dish known as Oon Soru in Tamil literature as early as the year 2 CE Oon Soru was said to be made of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, coriander, pepper, and bay leaf, and was used to feed military warriors.

However, the most popular story traces the origins of the dish to Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s beautiful queen who inspired the Taj Mahal.

It is said that Mumtaz once visited the army barracks and found the Mughal soldiers looking weak and undernourished. She asked the chef to prepare a special dish that combined meat and rice to provide balanced nutrition to the soldiers – and the result was biryani.

At the time, rice was fried in ghee, without washing, to give it a nutty flavor and prevent it from clumping. Meat, aromatic spices, and saffron were added to it before cooking the mix over a wood fire.

The evolution of biryani spans many centuries, many cultures, many ingredients and many cooking styles. From an army dish to a dish fit for royalty, the biryani today is a pan-India culinary favorite. Its many varieties reflect the local tastes, traditions and gastronomic histories of their regions of evolution.


kheer (rice pudding)
kheer (rice pudding)

Kheer, rice pudding is made by boiling rice, broken wheat, tapioca or vermicelli with milk and sugar. As sugar was still an unknown ingredient in India, to balance the sweet-bitter jaggery – fruits, spices are added. Such as cardamom, saffron, raisins, pistachios, cashews or almonds and a whole host of regional ingredients.

The first mention of kheer, which historians say was derived from the Sanksrit word kshirika (meaning a dish prepared with milk), is found in the fourteenth century Padmavat of Gugarat, not as a rice pudding but a sweet preparation of jowar and milk. Back then using millets in pudding was quite common. kheer was a part of the ancient Indian diet- it is mentioned in Auryveda writings.

But the real popularity of kheer was accounted to its religious association and temples. Rice was said to be a part of all religious function during the Chola dynasty that upheld rice for its life sustaining qualities. And in that way kheer became an important part of all religious rituals. Of course the shwet (white) color, which was seen as a symbol of purity and divinity, also worked in its favor. The records of Jagannath Puri talks about how the kheer was tweaked further to create the famous kheer prasad.

Kheer in fact played a major role in the construction of a famous ancient Indian landmark, the Konark Temple.

Legend has it that the foundation of the temple, which had to be ahead of the anchorage area in the sea, could not be laid after many attempts. Every time a stone was thrown in the water, it would drown without a trace. When the project was almost shelved, the chief architect’s son finally came out with the solution. He used a bowl of warm kheer to show how a bridge could be build to the point so that a foundation can be laid. He used small rice balls in warm milk to show his point. That day, that little boy not only ensured that the Konark Temple was build, which was constructed on the same lines, but also discovered a new form of kheer called the gointa godi kheer, which today is one of the state’s signature sweet dishes.

The best payasam- kheer, made from rice, milk, sugar or jaggery, is found in the temples of Guruvayoor and Ambalappuzha. In the Ambalappuzha temple, payasam is served as part of a tradition, based on an ancient legend.

Once there was a king who ruled that region and he was great enthusiast of chaturanga (or chess). One day a traveling sage was challenged by the king to play the chess. To motivate the opponent the king offered any reward that sage could name. The sage modestly said that, being a man of few material needs, all he wished was a few grains of rice. The sage said to the king, “Let the chessboard decide the amount of rice, as we play. One grain of rice shall be placed in the first square, two grains in the second square, four in the third square, eight in the fourth square, sixteen in fifth square and so on, for all sixty-four squares.”

Upon hearing the demand, the king was unhappy since the sage requested only a few grains of rice instead of other riches from the kingdom which the king would have been happy to donate. He requested the sage to add other items to his prize but the sage declined. Finally the game started. The king was no match for the sage and he lost the game.

The king begin a man of word, he immediately ordered for a sack of grain to measure it out as per the sage’s request. As he started adding a grain of rice to the chess board, the king soon realized that the amount of grain is not small as he had initially thought. While the first square had only one grain, tenth square had 500 grains and twenty first square had more than one million grains. By forty first square, it reached more than one trillion grains. The king realized that, if he had totaled the rice grains of entire kingdom and also neighboring kingdom, it was not enough to give it to the sage.

The sage then revealed his true identity. He was none other than Lord Krishna himself! Lord Krishna told the king that he will take the rice in installments and asked him to make arrangements to prepare paal payasam at the Ambalappuzha temple everyday. From that day onward, Paal Payasam is served in Sri Krishna Temple in Ambalappuzha.

What could be a better story about ‘Exponential growth’, hope this story will definitely delight the mathematicians.

How to make Temple Kheer

Temple Kheer
2 tablespoons ghee
3/4 cup long grained rice, washed and dried
1/2 bay leaf
2 litres milk
1/2 cup ground rock sugar, or raw sugar
1/4 cup currants
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
one pin-head quantity of pure cooking camphor (optional)
1 tablespoon toasted nuts for garnish

Heat the ghee or butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, and toast the rice for a minute.

Add the bay leaf and milk. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to half.

Add the sweetener, currants, and cardamom, and simmer the mixture until it reaches one fourth of it’s original volume, and is thick and creamy.

Stir in the optional camphor, and cool to room temperature, or refrigerate until chilled.

Serve garnished with the toasted nuts.

Rice kheer or chawal ki kheer is also made on many occasions like festivals, or any pooja at home. It is the favourite ‘Navidhya’- food for Goddess Lakshmi and Ganesh.

Enjoy the following folktale:

Ganesh with a Fist-full of Rice and a Spoon-full of Milk

The birth of Lord Ganesh falls every year in the monsoon months of August or September. He is a very lovable God and worshiped before beginning any work or project. It is believed that Ganesh is the remover of all obstacles and so, one of his names is Vighaneshwar. A long time ago, in a village in India the villagers were preparing for Ganesh’s birthday on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi. The houses were being cleaned and decorated with fresh flowers and garlands. The men were busy buying different things required for worship from the market so that the women could cook. The women were busy cooking sweets and Modak (a sweet Ganesh is fond off) for offering to Ganesh when they worshiped him.

The children were also busy wearing new clothes and running around getting in everybody’s way in anticipation of the celebrations. The adults were indeed very very busy giving a festive air to their houses and the entire village. There was so much to do.

A young boy in rags and torn clothes walked into this busy village. He looked around him and was happy to see so much activity. He saw children running around in all their fine clothes. The village children had no time for him as he looked very poor.

The boy stopped a young girl and asked her:

“Excuse me, I am very hungry. I have a fistful of rice and about a spoon full of milk. I need somebody to cook it for me. Can you help me?”

The girl was taken aback and answered:

“Are you mad? Who can cook anything with so little rice and milk? Go away I have no time for you. Can’t you see we are all busy preparing for Lord Ganapati’s birthday celebration.”

The boy felt very sad and went to the first house on his left. He saw a lady dressed in a pretty silk saree at the door. She was cleaning the courtyard of her house. He went up to her and said very humbly:

“Excuse me Mausi (mother’s sister), I am very hungry. I have a fistful of rice and about a spoonful of milk. I need somebody to cook it for me. Can you please help me? I will be very grateful.”

The woman was shocked that this boy in rags had the audacity to ask her to do something for him. She got angry and yelled at him:

“How dare you talk to me? You dirty, filthy boy, you need a bath. We have puja in our house. Do not come in and touch anything as it will become impure. I have enough to do in my house to welcome Ganapati today. Go away and don’t come to my door again.”

The little boy went away looking even more depressed.

He went from one house to another showing his fistful of rice and about a spoon full of milk requesting whomsoever he saw:

“Kaka (uncle), Dada (grandfather), Dadi (grandmother), Bhaiya (brother), Chachi ( aunty), I have a fistful of rice and about a spoon full of milk. I need somebody to cook it for me. Can you please help me?”

He felt that maybe there was at least one kind person in the entire village that would help him. Every one sent him away, some in anger and some in disgust.

As he walked, he saw a priest near the temple and thought to himself that finally here is a man who is in the service of God. He spends his time praying, teaching and giving sermons to the people. He will surely feel compassion for me. I will approach him and ask for help.

The priest had had his morning bath, performed his prayers and finished the morning rituals of the temple. He was happy as it was Ganesh Chaturthi and a lot of people would come to the temple to offer prayers, gifts and money. He was thinking how much money would come in by the evening when he saw a small boy in dirty rags standing and watching him. The priest thought he was a Brahmin and the little boy looked from a lower caste. The boy had no right to be at the temple gate and he was about to drive him away when the boy spoke up:

“Panditji namaskar, I am a poor boy and have just come to this village. I am very hungry. I have a fistful of rice and about a spoon full of milk. I need somebody to cook it for me. Can you tell me if somebody in this village can cook it for me?”

The priest was now livid. He felt the boy had no right to address him. He started shouting in anger and told the little boy:

“Run away. How dare you come to the temple and talk to me. There is no place for the likes of you. This is a temple. If you are looking for alms there is none for you here. Do not attempt to sully the Lord’s house.”

So saying, the priest locked the temple and walked away.

The little boy was very dejected and thought to himself:

“What has happened to the people here? They are so busy preparing for Ganesh’s birthday that they cannot feed one hungry little boy. They are so rude and insensitive.”

He started walking out of the village and as he walked towards the forest he saw a dilapidated hut. In the hut was a sick frail woman who was sleeping. He decided to try his luck one more time. He woke her up and said:

“Amma (mother), I am very hungry. I have a fistful of rice and about a spoon full of milk. I need somebody to cook it for me. Can you help me?”

The women blinked her eyes and shook off her sleep. She was very tired but on seeing the little boy and hearing his request she was amused. She said:

“Son, how can I cook just a fistful of rice and a spoon full of milk and turn it into kheer (pudding)? When I put it on the fire it will get burnt. Besides I do not have a pot to cook it in.”

She was humoring him but the boy said:

“Amma, borrow a pot from somebody and while you are doing so borrow a big one”

The woman was impressed by the boy so she decided to cook the rice and milk for him. She borrowed a big cooking pot; put it on fire with the ingredients in it. The boy said:

“Amma, I will go down to the river to have a bath till you finish cooking. We will both eat when I come back.”

So saying he went off to have a bath. The lady waiting for the fire to build so the cooking could start lay down on the floor. As she was not well and week with fever she soon fell asleep.

Suddenly she awoke up to the most appetizing smell of the cooking Kheer. She got up to see how just a fistful of rice and about a spoon full of milk could produce the aroma rising from the pot. She was stunned to see the pot was full to the brim with a sweet thick, creamy Kheer. Her mouth started watering and she wanted to eat, but realized that she should wait for the little boy before eating. After all the kheer was before her because of him, so she waited. He was a long time in coming and she could not control herself. She served the kheer in a bowl and offered some to the Ganesh statue in her house. Then she sat down to eat.

The kheer was delicious and the lady took a lot of helpings till her stomach was very full. The boy came back from his bath and sat down. The lady served him the kheer. The boy asked:

“Amma, where is your bowl? We were to eat together.”

She was embarrassed and said:

“I am sorry but could not control myself and ate without you. Now I am too full to give you company.”

The boy said: “Amma, even I am full, I cannot eat any more”

The lady was getting very suspicious and asked:

“How is it that your stomach is full without eating? Who are you? The pot is full of kheer with only a fistful of rice and a spoon full of milk. I ate more than four bowls of the kheer as I was very hungry and still the pot is full to the brim.”

The little boy smiled and said:

“Amma, I am Ganesh” and transformed to his original form.

“Before eating you offered me the kheer, do you remember? I ate to my satisfaction then. The whole village is in preparation to welcome me and when I walked in nobody had time for me including the priest. In spite of being ill and poor you welcomed me. Amma ask me for a boon.”

The lady was very happy to have been of service to Ganesh and asked for health, wealth and prosperity. Ganesh granted her the wishes and disappeared. The whole village was shocked to learn that the poor lady living on the outskirts of the village in a shack was now overnight living in a big house and had everything the heart could desire.


idli steamer

Idli sambar differs across regions, communities and households.

According to India’s celebrated food historian, K.T. Achaya, idli may have its origins in Indonesia (a country with along tradition of making steamed and fermented food).

800 years ago, Indonesian kings took a great fancy for South Indian brides. Their cooks brought steaming vessels with them, which Xuan Xang sadly notes, were absent in the 7th century.

He also suggests that Indonesia’s kedli, a similar fluffy steamed cake was the precursor of the Indian idli. Another very similar dish is the Indonesian Bura, a rectangular rice cake cooked in coconut milk that is served with spicy coconut powder.

Other historians believe that the word idli may have been derived from ‘iddalige’, mentioned in the Kannada work Vaddaradhane written by Sivakotyacharya in 920 AD, or ‘iddarika’, mentioned in the 12th-century Sanskrit text Manasollasa written by King Someshvara III in 1130 AD.

Yet another theory claims that the idli is a version of the idada, a dish that came to the south India during 10th century AD when a community of silk weavers from Saurashtra settled down in Tamil Nadu. Idada is a steamed white dhokla which is made from the same ingredients as idli, rice and urad dal.

Idli may have originated elsewhere but it was only in south India that the process of making idlis from a painstakingly ground fermented batter of urad dal and rice was perfected. Over the years, a dizzying array of idli versions evolved:

  • about the size of a plate
  • dollop-sized
  • the Goan version
  • steamed in baskets with grated carrots on top
  • the Mangalore version which is steamed in leaves
  • made of semolina instead of rice

As for the delicious medley of lentils and vegetable called sambar, the story goes that the original recipe for this dish can actually be traced to Maratha ruler Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji. This is how the interesting tale goes.

The Marathas were ruling Tanjavur. A cousin of the Maratha ruler Shahuji Bhonsle, Sambhaji was extremely fond of amti, a thin, spicy dal made with a handful of the sour kokum thrown in. Once when the kokum imported from the coast did not reach the king’s kitchen, Sambhaji (a great cook himself) decided to experiment by using tamarind pulp instead. The dish he made was served to the court, which declared the dish an outstanding preparation. Sambhaji loved his own concoction too, and gradually the dish came to be referred to as sambar.

Another theory about the origins of sambar points to the mention of huli in a Kannada text written by Govinda Vaidya (a poet in the court of Wodeyar king Kanteerva Narasa Rajendra Vijaye) that dates back to the year 1648. Described as toor dal cooked with vegetables, jaggery and coconut, huli is believed to be akin to a precursor of sambar.

Over the years, sambar has evolved into numerous variations. The sambar of Tamil Nadu is very different from the one made in Karnataka. While dry powders (podi) are used in Tamil Nadu, wet pastes are preferred in Karnataka. Even the serving protocol in traditional meals differs – in Tamil Nadu, sambar is served first and then rasam, but it is the opposite in Karnataka.

The Tulu version of sambar, called koddel, is sweeter and milder while in Andhra style pappu charu is a simple thick sambar prepared with drumstick and shallots. Telangana’s kaddu ka dalcha contains meat and chana dal along with tamarind and a sambar-like masala.

The Palakkad-style varutharacha sambar from Kerala has a distinct taste due to a crucial local ingredient: coconut. In this version. fresh, grated coconut is roasted and ground to a paste along with fenugreek seeds, red chillies, coriander seeds, asafoetida and chana dal. The Kerala sambar is unique for another reason – just about every vegetable, from beans and raw banana to bittergourd and yam, is used in it.

However, the most unusual version of the sambar is the milk sambar that evolved in the 1930s as a result of an unusual blend of Maratha and Jain traditions. The Marathas had a dish called tambda rassa which was a kind of sambar made from lamb stock. In an effort to adopt the mouthwatering dish for the Jain palate, the Jains used milk in stead of lamb stock and that was how milk sambar was made.


Dosa or Dhosai is a fermented crepe or pancake made from rice batter and black lentils. It is indigenous to and is a staple dish in south India. Dosa is also popular in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore,where the name Thosai is more commonand in Myanmar as Toshay.

According to food historian K. T. Achaya, dosa or dosai was already in use in ancient Tamil country around the 1st century AD, as per references in the Sangam literature. According to historian P. Thankappan Nair, dosa originated in the Udupi town of present-day Karnataka.

In popular tradition, the origin of dosa is linked to Udupi, probably because of the dish’s association with the Udupi restaurants.

Also, the original Tamil dosa was softer and thicker. The thinner and crispier version of dosa, which became popular all over India, was first made in present-day Karnataka.

A reference to Dosa occurs in the Tamil Sangam Literature from around 6th century CE Edward Farnworth mentions the first reference to Dosa in Tamil Sangam literature in the sixth century CE

A recipe for dosa (as dosaka) can be found in Manasollasa, a 12th-century Sanskrit encyclopedia compiled by Someshvara III, who ruled from present-day Karnataka.

It is a common breakfast dish, and street food.

Rice is ground finely to form a batter. Rice can be uncooked or parboiled. The mixture of urad dal (black lentils) and rice can be replaced with highly refined wheat flour to make a maida dosa or semolina for a rava dosa.

A thin layer of the batter is then ladled onto a hot tava (griddle) greased with oil or ghee (clarified butter). It is spread out evenly with the base of a ladle or bowl to form a pancake. It is flipped to heat both crusts and removed from the griddle when the crust becomes dry. Dosa are served hot, either folded in half or rolled.

Dosa can be stuffed with fillings of vegetables and sauces to make a quick meal. They are typically served with a vegetarian side dish which varies according to regional and personal preferences. Common side items are:

  • Sambar.
  • Wet chutney: examples include coconut chutney (a semi-solid paste made up of coconut, dal (lentils), green chilli and mint or coriander)
  • Dry chutney: a powder of spices and desiccated coconut.
  • Indian pickles.
  • Milagai powder: fried dry chillies, dal, asafoetida i.e., hing, salt. All the ingredients are put together and ground coarsely.
  • Curd: (meaning Yogurt in Indian English) with chilli powder topping.
  • Muddha pappu: with large amount of ghee. This is the traditional way of eating dosa in many parts of Andhra Pradesh

Though dosa typically refers to the version made with rice and lentils, many other versions exist, often specific to an Indian region. Some variations include Egg dosa, which is spread with an omelette, and cheese dosa, Chilli dosa, Onion dosa, Ghee (thuppa/nei) dosa: ghee is used instead of oil while frying, Butter dosa: butter is used instead of oil when frying and a small amount is placed on top of it when serving.

Kerala dosa: a different kind of traditional dosa, that is small, thick, soft and spongy. It is more like a pancake and somewhat similar to appam, but dal is used in the batter for appams and appams are not flat.

A masala dosa is made by stuffing a dosa with a lightly cooked filling of potatoes, fried onions and spices. It wraps the dosa around an onion and potato curry or sabji.

Some variants are:

  • Mysore masala dosa: masala dosa with coconut and onion chutneys spread inside along with bhaji.
  • In Karnataka, the masala dosa is usually served with a red chutney applied to its inside surface. The red chutney usually has generous amounts of garlic.

Enjoyed Khichri, Byriani, Kheer, Dosa & Idlly?

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