We live in turbulent times – as one British academic found out when he denounced an Indian snack online.
Idli – a fluffy South Indian rice cake – is loved and appreciated as comfort food by many around the world.
Even US Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris has spoken fondly of the cake, reportedly telling attendees at an August event that her Indian mother instilled a “love for good idli” in her.
Still, when British historian Edward Anderson called the snack “boring,” he probably didn’t expect to become national news in India.
Anderson was replying to a tweet from Indian food delivery service Zomato, which asked “what’s that one dish you could never understand why people like soo much.”
He replied: “Idli are the most boring things in the world” – and lo, a schism was born.
Several Indians took to social media to defend the beloved dish, with some saying it was the food that united South India.
Others questioned the review, coming from a man who hails from a country that loves baked beans.
Some users agreed with Anderson – and others were simply confused about why the subject had gone viral in the first place.
At one point, Shashi Tharoor, an Indian Member of Parliament and former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, stepped in to give his opinion, having been alerted to the drama by his son, who called the statement the “most offensive take on Twitter.”
Tharoor responded, saying: “Yes, my son, there are some who are truly challenged in this world. Civilisation is hard to acquire: the taste & refinement to appreciate idlis, enjoy cricket, or watch ottamthullal (a traditional South Indian dance form) is not given to every mortal. Take pity on this poor man, for he may never know what Life can be” on Wednesday.
The politician even offered some advice on how to consume the dish, writing: “Try it with a plate of steaming idlis, accompanied by coconut chutney with a garnish of mustard seeds, a red-chilli-and-onion samandi & some molagapodi w/melted ghee. If the idli batter has been fermented right, it’s the closest thing to heaven on this earth! Class will be better.”
“I know that people can get very passionate about their favorite foods, but this was a bit more than I expected! I guess it was partly Shashi Tharoor, valiantly defending the food of his region, that made things spiral out of control!” Anderson, a lecturer in history at Northumbria University in the north of England, told CNN. “Food means a lot to people on an emotional and cultural level – I also love my food and respect this a lot,” he added.
But still, even after receiving such careful guidance on how to consume the food, Anderson remained unconvinced.
“I’m afraid I’m sticking to my guns. In light of the reaction I did order some idlis from a local south Indian restaurant in Newcastle yesterday, but my opinion remains the same,” he said.
“Lots of people have told me that I shouldn’t judge them alone, but alongside the sambar, coconut chutney, gunpowder, and ghee that comes with them. I agree that these accompaniments are great… it’s just idlis aren’t best vehicle for them! Dosai and vada are far superior!” Anderson said, adding that he prefers food such as chole bhature – chickpea curry with fried flatbread – butter chicken and mutter paneer, a pea and paneer cheese dish.
“I have particular fondness for the cuisine in the south, where my wife’s family are from. My mother-in-law’s fish moilee is to die for, and I can’t get enough konju roast, appam and ishtew, meen varuthathu, and of course piles of Kerala parotta. When all this is available, why waste your time eating idlis?!” he added.