Culture wars over Idli tweet

South Indian dishes Idli, Sambhar, and Chutney  on Banana leaf (Photo: iStock).
South Indian dishes Idli, Sambhar, and Chutney on Banana leaf (Photo: iStock).

By Amit Roy

A BRITISH historian, Edward Anderson, triggered a culture war last week by tweeting: “Idlis are the most boring things in the world.”

He was responding to a question posed by the Indian food delivery portal Zomato: “What’s that one dish you could never understand why people like so much?”

Ishaan Tharoor, a foreign affairs columnist for the New Yorker, was the first to object: “I think I’ve encountered the most offensive take on Twitter.”

He was backed up by his father, the Indian MP and au­thor Shashi Tharoor: “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 is not given to every mortal. Take pity on this poor man, for he may never know what Life can be.”

Anderson, who is based at Northumbria University in Newcastle where he works on the history and politics of modern India, pointed out he had had “many idlis in his life mainly in India. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years and my wife is from Kerala. Idlis regularly fea­ture at breakfast with the in-laws.”

He said the debate on idli proves how “food speaks to people’s identi­ty, their regional pride and also resonates with everyone on an emotional level”.

He quipped: “Fantastic. My stupid idli comment has now been connected – ever so tenuously – to the US election. For the record: I love Indian food… and especially south Indian food! (Just not idlis).”

Will the south Indian dish be served in the White House if Kamala Harris were one day to become the US president?

Talking about her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate told a gathering of Indian Americans on August 15: “Growing up, my mother would take my sister Maya and me back to what was then called Madras because she wanted us to understand where she had come from…. And, of course, she always wanted to instil in us, a love of good idli.”