Getting a Dose of Dosas
This is the story of a pancake.
Think of a giant, crispy crepe, made of rice and lentil flours, stuffed with a savory filling, and always made to order. It started as a food for South India’s vegetarian masses, and became so popular that it is now served all over the country, whether as a breakfast offering in some India’s (and the world’s) best hotels, or on the streets of Varanasi, the mystical destination for religious pilgrims on the shores of the Ganges.
In the delightful novel, Selection Day (by Aravind Adiga), a Bombay slum dweller seeks to claw his family’s way out of poverty by molding one of his two sons into a star cricket player. The boys are forbidden to eat dosas, although it is unclear whether this is because of street food sanitation or carbs (most likely the latter); one son sneaks them from time to time and becomes a star anyway.
At the start of a group tour of India, myMEGusta was the only one eating this exotica at breakfast (in lovely hotels, not on the street). Then came odd gazes and comments like, “Hey, that looks good. What it is?” After 18 days, dosas were being savored by fellow travelers throughout dining room every morning.
The thin, rolled pancake is pretty much empty at the outer edges, with all the stuffing, usually spicy onions and potatoes, in the center. Start adding the accoutrements – a thin but chunky vegetable stew, spicy tomato sauce(s), and coconut chutney – one is quite challenged to eat this dribbly treat without making quite the mess. But, myMEGusta had never seen anyone eating it otherwise, whether in a New York restaurant or in the hotels, all tourists struggling with knife and fork.
Then, voila, came the great revelation at Navaratna, a fantastic vegetarian Indian (kosher) restaurant in Stamford, CT, where the clientele is primarily Indian businessmen and families (with a sprinkling of good eaters who keep kosher). http://www.navaratnact.com/ A dosa had to be sampled soon after my return from the sub-continent, just to see how the local rendition would compare with the wonderful breakfasts in India.
Two big news flashes: The flavors at Navaratna were actually more exciting than in all those fancy places that catered (deliciously, by the way) to tourists. And, the proper way to eat it is with one’s right hand, no utensils. It was amazing how easy it was to rip off a little crispy pancake and grab up some of the filling and sauces. Who knew?
This is one thing that myMEGusta is not about to make at home, particularly given the proximity of Navaratna, but you can get the pancake mix in an Indian grocery store, and the fillings would be time consuming but not difficult to make, assuming that you start with top quality, authentic ingredients from that same source.