By- Khushi Bisht
Kamala Harris is the first Indian, African-American woman to serve as the Vice President of the United States. She had a strong African-American upbringing while embracing her Indian culture as a child. Harris was mostly raised by her single mother, Shyamala Gopalan, and frequently accompanied her on trips to Madras (now Chennai), India.
Even though Kamala has been living in the United States for decades, her affection for India, all Indian things, and especially Indian food remains strong. And when Kamala mentioned ‘Idli’ with ‘really good Sambar’ as one of her favorite Indian dishes, during a social media interaction, it proved her point. Kamala’s maternal grandfather, P.V. Gopalan lived in Besant Nagar, a place in Chennai known for the best and softest idlis, with several major and small idli shops.
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Idli is the first meal that springs to mind when one thinks about south Indian dishes. To those who are unfamiliar, this is a delicious rice cake prepared by steaming a fermented rice and pulses mixture. Although the idli is now considered a south Indian dish, it is said to have originated overseas.
According to culinary historians, Idli originated in Indonesia, which is recognized for its long history of fermented foods. Indonesians also eat a lot of rice, averaging more than 200 kilograms per person annually. Idli eventually made its way to India as steamed idli around 800-1200 CE.
While some historians claim the name ‘Idli’ comes from the Kannada term ‘Iddalige,’ which was documented in a Kannada text from 920 AD, indicating that it was prepared from ‘Urad Dal’ (skinned black gram) batter. In addition, the Manasollasa (12th-century Sanskrit text) has the word ‘Iddarika,’ which refers to an urad-dal-based meal.
There are numerous legends about the origination of Idli. Some say it was inspired by a meal called “Surati Idada” or “Gujrati Idada,” which was prepared by Saurashtra (peninsular region of Gujarat) silk weavers around 10AD.
Regardless of where it originated from or how it was made, Idli was refined solely in the southern region of India. It is now one of India’s most popular dishes, and it has spawned several variations through the decades. Idlis, in addition to being tasty, are also incredibly nutritious and healthful.
Kamala Harris, on the other hand, enjoys cooking as much as she enjoys Idli. She is equally talented in cooking as she is in her work life. Kamala has expressed her passion for cooking and her South Indian roots on several occasions. She once remarked on her proud Indian background, reminiscing of her mother’s desire to instill in her a “love for good idli.”
For Kamala Harris, cooking is both contemplative and joyful. She got the inspiration for cooking from her mother. In her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” she mentioned her mother’s cooking skills, saying “My mother cooked like a scientist.”