Let’s talk about something a little more light-hearted for a second.
I love it.
A sourdough pancake, if you will. Fluffy and crispy all at the same time (THESE MAY BE THE TWO BEST FOOD TEXTURES EVER). Fermented deliciousness. You can even call it healthy. Dress it up or dress it down. Eat it at a restaurant or eat it out of a van. Dosa is my most favorite Indian food to ever put to my lips.
Mariel and I discovered dosa while wandering around Mysore, searching for a place to sit and enjoy a morning coffee. Restaurant number one was closed. On to the next one. We walked up to a local joint packed with Indians eating and sipping steaming hot chai from thimble-sized stainless steel cups (love affair number two: stainless steel Indian homewares). A bit intimidating for our first week in India. A western lady (WP — white person — for short) beckoned us over, motioning for us to sit with her instead of moving on in search of greener pastures with open tables. We sat down, introduced ourselves, got to know Stacy (that kind of cool, gorgeous, yoga-studio-owning, well-traveled and down-to-earth brunette you can’t even be jealous of because she’s so kind and you secretly want to be like her), and became fascinated by what was on her plate. It sort of looked like an Indian burrito? But it was thin and crispy and light and served with a creamy and chunky mysterious white sauce flecked with what could only be green chiles. We had to order one along with our coffee. Or rather, Stacy ordered for us. Masala dosa, please. And two coffees. Thank you.
And what would you know that little burrito looking thing was just so. damn. good. A south Indian specialty, it’s made by soaking rice and urid dal (split white lentils), grinding them into a batter and then fermenting them overnight. They’re then cooked in a searing hot pan like a thin pancake and served plain or with a filling, most popularly spicy potatoes (masala dosa). Always accompanied by coconut chutney — that’s the white stuff. Always eaten with your hands (so Indian). And always delicious.
One side is crispy, sometimes greasy depending on where you get it, and golden in color. The other side is like the fluffiest buttermilk pancake you’ve ever seen, with little bubbles and tiny sear marks from the brief seconds during which it touches the pan. A bit sweet, deliciously sour from the fermentation. The perfect cheap treat, generally less than a dollar. The coconut chutney is addicting, but your habit will cost you a few packs of Tums; those green chiles don’t mess around.
One of my favorite food experiences in Mysore is walking up to Sri Durga — a loud little stand-up shop that’s always packed and where I’m always the only woman. You walk up to the cashier, purchase a ticket for your desired menu item like you’re at the state fair, and elbow your way up to the counter so you can have just enough time to yell MASALA DOSA at the man behind the counter who is bound to laugh at your accent ten minutes later when you ask for another ladle of chutney. He’ll yell back, a few minutes later. MASALA DOSA? Elbow your way back to the front. Claim your prize. Your dosa comes out on a (stainless steel) plate — like an Indian lunch tray with a compartment for your chutney and one for your sambar, which I can only describe as a taste broth with floating vegetables. The potato filling is creamy and spicy and warm, like really chunky Indian mashed potatoes. You stand at the counter, eating with your hands, making conversation with your friends while all you really want to do is order twenty more dosas and then go bathe in them. They’re really that good. They’re like…..BEYONCE good.
What’s sad about this love affair, though, is that dosa doesn’t exist in northern India. It’s all chapati and roti and naan up there in the desert and the mountains, wheat flour outshining south India’s beloved fermented ball of awesomeness. And I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to sustain a long-distance relationship with street food. So as long as I’m down here — in Mysore for three more days (WHAT!?) and then Kerala for ten, I’m packing in as much dosa as possible. We even got our host mom to give us a cooking class on Dosa. You better believe that once I get back to the US, if I invite you over for dinner, you’re gonna get some dosa shoved in your face. And you’ll like it (YOU’LL EAT A MUFFIN AND LIKE IT).
And I don’t even feel bad about my daily habit, because these things have lentils in them. And vegetables. Mama’s gotta eat after all. And these days, most of the time that I ask my body gently, kindly, what would you like to eat, sweetie? I get a hollering reply:
Dosa. Dosa. and then more Dosa.
The heart wants what it wants, after all.
PS – Just stumbled upon and fell in love with this gorgeous photographic representation of sri durga’s sit-down sister restaurant. India and dosa in all their beautiful glory.