Love me tender ... the limitations of Fusion Dosas

My friends and family were a bit worried by my recent dosa lunches. "All izzz well?" asked Rahul. "Why are you punishing yourself?" asked K. "Is this the red meat loving Knife that we all know?" wondered the odd reader.

Well I am fond of dosas. Right since my growing up days in Calcutta. My earliest dosa memories are of the ones we used to buy from a restaurant called 'Rim Jhim' in Camac Street at Calcutta. I used to study at the International School close by. And then there were the ones we would buy from the dosa cart guy in Dhakuria. I was less than eight years old then. Yes, I like my dosa. But I don't normally reflect about them. What follows in this post are my recent observations on dosas. This is NOT a definitive guide on dosas. Far from it. A Bengali pontificating on dosa would be as ridiculous as a Keralite extolling the virtues of Hilsa.

I realised soon in life that there are different types of dosas. Just as all South Indians are not 'Madrasis'. I realised that dosas could be crisp, limp or thick. Then I came to Mumbai and discovered Mysore, Rava and Spring dosas.

'Spring Dosa?' Yes, you heard me right. I first had this Chinese spring roll based dosa from Kamat's near Dadar. We used to gorge on it when we would order it from office in the evening. There wasn't much else on offer.

This post is about Spring Dosa and its ilk. The clan of over stuffed, 'Fusion', dosas. I am no stranger to stuffed dosas. The potato based 'masala dosa' is of course as regular as 'sada' or plain dosas. I remember my mother eating mutton kheema dosas in the Grand at Calcutta when I was really young. I have had prawn dosas at Dosa Diner years back at Mumbai. And I got the omelette guys at the breakfast counter lend some ham, cheese and peppers to the dosa guy in the Holiday Inn Goa breakfast buffet. I got this ham dosa made during our honeymoon. These light fillings are fine. My problem is with over engineered fillings in dosa.

To understand why, think a bit about dosa and what makes it unique. All other Indian breads - puris, parathas and rotis of the North and luchis of the East are meant to be had with accompaniments. E.g. Daal, potatao subzi, meat curry and so on. However Dosas, the rice based crepes of the South, can be had by themselves with some chutney or sambhar on the side. Dosas are delicate, subtle, polite. Their delicacy lies in their simplicity. They taste best when left uninterfered.

Nothing kills dosas the way heavy fillings do. Dosas don't take kindly to being molested by masalas. They curl up in protest when overloaded. You are left with the taste of the filling. The presence of dosa almost nonexistent.

My two recent dosa lunches bring out this problem very well.

The first was at a dosa stall outside Mithibai College in Juhu. All sorts of side plots were added to the dosa. Chilly sauce, Schezwan sauce, tomato sauce, grated beetroots, coriander, onion, paneer, paneer masala, butter paneer, just butter, cheese, chutney and what have you. The pyrotechnics resulted in rainbow dosas which blinded the eye with their brilliance. The taste was sharp, overpowering, dominating. Unfortunately, the taste was that of the stuffing. The humble and noble Indian crepe tucked away far in the backround.

Some say that is not the way South Indian grannies wanted their children to eat dosas. People allege that these technicolour cousins of dosas are attempts of restaurateurs to cater to Gujarati patrons. Moneyed vegetarians who seek variety in food but are limited by their devotion to flora and not fauna. As a Bengali, I will try hard to stay out of this debate.

My next experience was at Rama Nayak's shop called Udipi near King's Circle. We went there as it was air conditioned unlike the other place beside it. Udipi is a town in South India. The restaurant was owned by South Indians. I am not qualified to say whether these dosas were authentic but they surely tasted and looked different from the polyester dosas outside Mithibai. The only stuffing available here was potato (macula), spinach (palace) or cheese. We tried Utahans, Mysore Rave masala and Mysore masala butter onion dosas.

The first thing that struck me about these dosas was the fact that the dosa, or the crepe, was the hero of the dish. Not the filling. The potato of the masala filling politely bowed to the reassuring crunch of the dosa crepe.

Another interesting thing was their version of the 'Mysore' base. There are as many versions of 'Mysore' as there are of butter chicken. This could range from the red paint that the guy opposite Nirmal at Narima Point would use to the Pudina (mint) chutney of Shiv Sagar Bandra. The 'Mysore' base here was a dryish, orange coloured masala which was quite erudite and noble. The resultant taste of nice firm dosa and the subtle masala smacked of the glorious Sangam poetry of Tamil Nadu and of Carnatic Music.

The third distinguishing aspect was the sambhar. This was salty, in a nice way. Not sweet unlike the Shiv Sagar Bandra sambhar. The latter ascribed by many again to the Gujarati influence.

I don't know if the dosas at Rama Nayak are classical or not. But they worked better for me in comparison to the remixed dosas of the Mithibai lane.

Note: Please excuse the poor quality of pictures from cell phone below. The do not do justice to the visual appeal of the stately dosas of Rama Nayak's Udipi.

I guess for me dosas need to be plain an simple the way Amma meant them to be.

Editor's Note: I would request regular readers of Finely Chopped to bear with me. I promise you more meat in posts very soon.