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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Masala Dosa - an Indian Cusine

A guest post by:
P.N. Sampath Kumar,
Cochin Ship Yard, Kochi (India)

What is the most favoured Tiffin across the world? I wrote my answer in one of the questionnaires supplied to me through some magazine as ‘Dosa’.

This circular magical recipe made of fermented batter prepared with rice, split black gram and fenugreek seeds in some proportion, made on a flat iron pan, has been the lifeline of people south of the Vindhyas. No mother in this region could be said to have not perfected the art of making dosas. No child in these regions could be said to have not had it as part of their regular menu. No wonder the moon like Dosa found its role in many a lullabies and stories.

Its first cousin, the Masala Dosa should have been the invention of some creative hotelier less than a century ago. Often semi circular in size, pregnant with potato curry stuffing in the middle, served with steam hot sambar and coconut chutney is the first choice of any south Indian foodie.

Masala dosas are not generally cooked at homes, unlike ordinary dosa. I am certain that no house wife in this world has ever perfected the art of making masala dosa. The testimony of it is the high demand for masala dosas in restaurants.

Somehow, the name Mysore is associated with masala dosa (as Mysore Masala Dosa) to show its superiority and also suggesting Karnataka as the birth place of this recipe. Similar is the case with Mysore Rasam and Mysore Bonda. The state of Mysore, which had been a very strong princely state with connoisseur kings, had attracted to it, several intellectuals, artistes, musicians and along with it, great cooks too. The Shivali Brahmins, basically from Udipi, Karnataka, who had the monopoly of south Indian Vegetarian restaurants across the world, would have spread this connotation. The credit for popularising masala dosa (along with filter coffee) throughout north India should go to the Indian Coffee House restaurant chains.

As Children, the word masala dosa always rejuvenated our taste buds. Those were the days when a visit to a restaurant was considered to be a luxury. My first adventure to a restaurant to have masala dosa happened when I was in 8th class. I often skipped the last period in my school and reached home late to give company to my classmate so that he can skip his tuition class which he never wanted to attend. The bribe offered to me was a masala dosa in the Krishna Bhavan Restaurant near the school. And that was the best masala dosa that I have ever had in my life. The aroma it had was awesome.

One has to begin with a piece of dosa from the corner, dipped in the chutney. The ecstasy ascends while approaching slowly towards the middle where the spicy potato masala is hidden. Then the potato curry starts getting invitingly revealing. By the time you finish the last mouth with whatever chutney and sambar left in the plate, it was like conquering the Everest or listening to a musical concert with a grand finale.

The aroma of the mixture of the masala, sambar and chutney stayed in my hand for hours and I often refused to take the regular boring evening dinner at home to keep the fragrance. I continued this friendship for want of Masala Dosa often risking myself getting caught at home. At last Masala Dosa won and I failed in studies.

The physical properties and chemical characteristics have been clearly sounded in the unwritten Masala Dosa Manual in vogue with south Indian hoteliers. It should be crispy and of size 15 to 18 Inch dia. Unlike ordinary dosa, Masala dosa is not reversed while cooking.

As regards the chemistry, dosa’s presence should be felt from a distance by mere fragrance of fried batter particles in butter oil coupled with the flavour of the potato curry escaping through the pores of dosa. Sambar, made of small local onion with asafoetida in it adds to the overall flavour of the cuisine. The prescribed overall colour is ‘golden’ with more thicker golden colour towards the centre of the circle.

The process is highly professional. Slightly fermented batter is spread on a large flat hot pan that can take 6-8 dosas at a time, with the bottom of a bowl, which is also used to measure and also to pour 2) By the time the cook spreads the eighth dosa, the first one would have been ready to take the stuffing 3) Place stuffing made of a secret combination of potato, onion, ginger, green chilly, turmeric powder and curry leaves and 4) By the time stuffing is placed in the eighth dosa, it is time to start folding the first dosa, into a half circle and serve with hot sambar and coconut chutney. More creative cooks have changed its physical property by presenting it in the form of flat cylinder, a cone, etc, depending upon their artistic fervour.

As a grown up, during my visits to the Town (Trichur), I always ventured to visit few of the famous restaurants that served good Masala Dosas. Prominent among them were Pathans, Ambadi, Dwaraka and Bharat. Bharat is still going strong. The other names have vanished over a period of time and new names appeared. I have heard my senior college mates talking about one Modern Swami’s café in Trichur which was more popular among masala dosa enthusiasts. By the time I reached college, this restaurant was closed for ever.

This healthy, very affordably priced food had/ has fans like Raj Kapoor and Khushwant Singh. Krishnaswami Sunderji, one of our yester year army Generals remembers in his memoirs, his younger days in Kashmir where they used to eat Masala dosa with mutton curry as stuffing in it in one of the roadside eateries regularly. Such is the transformation this wonderful dish has undergone over the years. Masala Dosa has travelled all over the world. We are hearing about Masala Dosa being served at White house on special occasions. I am sure that no town in the world which does not have a restaurant that serves Masala Dosa in some form or other.

But when I asked my son of his choice of something to be ordered to eat, his immediate answer was Pizza. I am wrong when I rated Masala Dosa as the most favoured in the beginning. My son’s taste buds charge up when he thinks of cutting out a piece from a medium pizza having abundant amount of sticky cheese spread on it, often flowing out, decorated with pieces of capsicum and tomato over it and seasoned with salt, pepper and red chilly flakes. The name masala dosa never evoked such a feeling in him.

But I am not disappointed. Though my town Cochin cannot boast of a great dosa tradition, there are a couple of places where only ‘Dosas’ are served. The ‘Pai Dosa Centre’ at MG road is one which serves 36 varieties of dosas. A recently started one near my home at Tripunithura, named ‘Dosa Corner’ too specialises only in Dosas, having 50 variants including chocolate dosas.
And at last the newspaper has come out with their results rating masala dosa as one of the 10 delicacies one should have in India.

A number of recipes are available in the net to attempt cooking Masala Dosa at home. But I wont’ suggest any as I do not want any of you to attempt it at home. This delicacy is meant to be relished while eating out.

Photo source: Wikimedia