The Confusing Origins & History Of The Indian Dosa

The Confusing Origins & History Of The Indian Dosa

For many Indians, especially in South India, there is absolutely nothing more fulfilling (and filling) than a crisp yet fluffy dosa, perhaps even covering a small amount of spiced potatoes, accompanied by sambar and chutney. As many say, any breakfast can fill your stomach, but a good dosa fills your soul.

Also referred to as the Indian crepe or pancake, the humble dosa has quite a hold over Indian cuisine. Popular all over the country, it may be one of the most well-known dishes. And so, this begs us the question –– where did it come from? Whose noble idea was it to create such a dish, and what are its possible origins?

Dosa enthusiasts may be perplexed to know that there exist several stories of how the food came to be. The best we can do is lay them out, and allow you to pick the one you find most plausible.

I. Team Karnataka

Food historian P Thankappan Nair states that the battle for the origin of dosa is won by Karnataka over Tamil Nadu. According to him, it originated in Udupi town in Karnataka, which is perhaps why you see most South Indian joints (especially those famous for dosa) with the word ‘Udupi’ in their name. Chalukya King Someshvara III who ruled Karnataka around 1126 CE, in his book Manasollasa (Sanskrit encyclopedia of the 12th Century), had also jotted down a recipe for dosa under the name of dosaka.

II. Team Tamil Nadu

Leading team Tamil Nadu is food historian KT Achaya, who says in his book The Story Of Our Food (2003) that dosa (as dosai) had been in Tamil culture since 1st Century AD. He believes it was part of the ‘ancient Tamil territory’ that includes Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Lakshadweep Island, and only parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, as is dictated by the Sangam literature –– the earliest form of Tamil literature available.

III. Legend Has it

This origin story is the one with the most entertainment value. Legend has it that a Brahmin cook from Udupi, in an attempt to escape his religious expectations, wanted to consume alcohol to feel free and wild, and act as such. In his endeavours to feel what he imagined to be ‘high’, he set out to ferment his own alcohol using rice, as alcohol was unavailable to Brahmins. Highly unsuccessful in his venture, he ended up pouring the mixture he created onto a hot pan and spread it around. When cooked, it became the crepe-like dish we know as the dosa.

Now, the reason it’s called dosa is a funnier tale. The word dosha in Kannada refers to things like vice, blemish, and offence –– which is all that this Brahmin cook performed as he tried to consume alcohol.

Whatever the origin of dosa may be, we cannot ignore just how lovable it is. Whether you’re on team crispy or team soft, the lip-smacking and heart-warming qualities are simply undeniable.

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