Posts Tagged Masala Dosa

Satanic Curse upon you if you ogle at this maami

There are three good reasons why we are forced to shamelessly steal such a hot picture of Padma Lakshmi from the website of a truly great paper, The Sunday Times of London, using Google™.

Reason No. 1: Because she is South Indian, a Palghat Iyer, a single-child, who has managed to capture the world’s attention (and Sir Salman Rushdie‘s for a while) with a name like Padma Parvati Lakshmi.

Reason No. 2: Because by steaming up camera lenses like this, as a model, as an actress and as a TV host, she is truly a bad miss in our list of The Sexiest South Indian South Asian Woman♥, for which we beg her apology.

Reason No. 3: Because as the author of Tangy, Tart Hot and Sweet, and as the host of the American reality show Top Chef, Padma, who was brought up as a vegetarian, has put some much-needed intellectual spin on the lazily uttered cliche, “Food is the New Sex“.

“Food is very tactile and sensual. If you think about it, it’s the only way you can get into another person’s body without actually touching them.”

As a website named after a food item, that likes to sing in praise of masala dosas, mavinakaayi chitranna, Iyengar bakeries, haalu khova, Maddur vade, kodu bale, and thair-vade, we wholeheartedly agree.

Get the picture?

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Photograph: courtesy The Sunday Times, London

Also visit: Maami’s Weblog

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A good dosa is like your first dovvu: unsurpassable

Those who have migrated out of Bangalore will eternally argue about the merits of the benne dosa as served in Vidyarthi Bhavan over those served at Central Tiffin Room. Others will slurp with nostalgia when speaking about the idli their father got for them from Veena Stores.

Whatever the debate, at least one thing is certain: that having eaten in such temples as Brahmins Tiffin Room or Central Tiffin Room, Bangaloreans know what a good idli is—or for that matter, a dosa, whether plain or masala.

Ratna Rao Shekar, editor of Housecalls, the “longest running magazine for doctors“—and “a connoisseur of the idli just as some are of wine and caviar”—in her quest for the perfect idli and dosa finds her way to Bangalore’s old eateries where idli and dosa have their own mathematics.

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By RATNA RAO SHEKAR

Just as we are eternally looking for that approximation of our first love—that girl in pigtails on the bus, or the boy with long eyelashes who sat in the back bench of the class but shone radiantly like a sharp ray of the sun—we, it turns out, will for the rest of our lives be looking for that perfect dosa or idli that we ate when we were children in a small street in Malleswaram or Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore.

Since this is oftentimes only an ideal, like first love which is more imagination than reality, every idli that you eat later falls short of expectation. Either the idlis are like rocks that could be flung at an enemy, or the dosas are more like the ‘choppaties’ of the north, chewy and rubbery.

After a recent eating binge in Bangalore accompanied by those who know about these things, old-time friends who have grown up and aged in these parts, I am now convinced that the best idli and dosa can be had in the Silicon City. And the surprising thing is that this can be done at no great cost.

At Rs 6 an idli and Rs 20 a dosa, you do feel they would at least save on the paper on which such bills are scribbled.

I would like to call these places restaurants, but restaurants require certain standards to deserve their qualification. Some of the eateries like the old Central Tiffin Room (CTR), now called Sri Sagar, in 7th Cross of Margosa Road in Malleswaram are so dark and dingy that you need a torch to see where you are going.

Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi Bazaar has scaled its lighting in its efforts to modernize, but to bright tubelights. At 6.30 in the morning, when the first acolytes are arranging themselves on the narrow benches in anticipation of that dosa that is to die for, that light is rather harsh on the soul. Even if the dosa and potato sagu is heaven on the tongue.

The seating has simple wooden tables and chairs with marble or formica tops and there is no maître here to usher you to your tables. AT CTR and Vidyarthi, it’s best you make your way to a table as fast as you can, or you will be standing until eternity watching all those dosas flurrying past you.

In fact, courtesies of any kind are to be dispensed with in these places.

At CTR, for instance, we stood near the cashier—who sat with an array of gods in the background and a simple cash book in front of him—and kept a hawk’s eye on those on the verge of finishing their dosa or puri and sagu so we could swoop in on the table even before they finished paying the bill.

Worse, in these eateries that seat no more than 50 people at a go, there are no such things as exclusive tables for a group or family. We were eating our dosa and rava idli silently (there is no room here to conduct conversations on current topics of interest such as terrorist attacks or rising prices) when the head of a family seated his oldest child next to us, while he sidled to an adjacent table loudly ordering a plate of dosa for his daughter and piping hot coffee for himself.

In Vidyarthi Bhavan we were lucky to find a table quickly, and waited anxiously for our dosa. Since the bill of fare itself is just dosa (plain and masala), vada, khara and kesari bhath, coffee and tea, the waiter does not even need to repeat your order after taking it down. He knows that most people come to Vidyarthi for the dosas.

It is practically understood that you have arrived here at this early hour (we were there at 7 a.m.) for the Vidyarthi dosa. And the dosa arrives, after a good 15 minutes, not only for us but for a whole lot of others around us who are salivating by this time.

The waiter, a veshti-clad gentleman who comes with a stack of dosas neatly balancing himself and the plates, flings a dosa each on our plates and on those of others sitting at tables around. The accompaniment is just a liquidy yellow-dal chutney that flows across the plate and submerges the dosa.

The dosa is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, the potato sagu unobtrusive on the tongue without too much of chillies or garlic. And it is made with ghee (or benne, as Kannadigas call it), not Saffola or any other oil that heart doctors recommend!

I was waiting for sambar as in other restaurants, when my companions, having already eaten half their dosa, urged me to start eating without further delay, as sambar was an alien concept at Vidyarthi and an import from neigbouring Tamil Nadu (with whom they were currently at war over language, water and other issues).

Vidyarthi, as its name suggests was started to cater to students in 1943 by two brothers Venkaramana and Parameshwara Ural from Udupi. In the 1970s  it was taken over by Ramakrishna Adiga whose son Arun Kumar now oversees operations.

The who’s who of the country have  eaten here, from scientist Sir M. Visvesvaraya, actor Raj Kumar, playwright Girish Karnad to cricket’s leg-spinner B.S. Chandrashekar. It is said that filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was so impressed with the eatery that he made a two-minute documentary for BBC on the dingy hall called Vidyarthi where at one time, when short of space, they would seat you in the kitchen itself!

How many dosas in a day do you serve, we ask the cashier. He tells us reluctantly (these are matters of some secrecy) that he serves around 1,000 dosas in a day on weekdays, and on weekends it goes up to at least 2,000.

In fact, when I arrived here on a Sunday I was literally told to go home as it was already 12 noon, and didn’t I know that Vidyarthi closes at 12 on weekends (and in fact by 11 on weekdays)? No, I did not, though many others who looked suspiciously like Kannadigas from Santa Clara and Palo Alto seemed to know both timings and the menu, from the satisfied look on their faces at having consumed their Sunday’s worth of dosa and coffee.

The interesting thing about these eateries is their timing, which can even put the precise Germans to shame. They open without fail by 6.30 or 7 in the morning, and by 11 or 12 are ready to go home.

S. Pradeep of Veena Stores on Margosa Road in Malleswaram wants to offer us something when we arrive at 11.30, but is unable to give us anything we ask for, whether idli or mere coffee, as everything has been sold out like tickets of a Karan Johar film. He does finally give us coffee, but says with an apology that it’s only Bru instant.

“Come tomorrow in the morning,” he says, sad that he could not offer any of the items from his famous store that has men in Malleswaram rushing here in the mornings to fill their steel tiffin carriers with idlis and chutney.

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Zen and the art of eating the (Mysore) Masala Dosa

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: Everybody has their own, unique kink. The kink may be disgusting to some, obnoxious to others, but to the owner of the kink, it is his trademark trait, the calling card of his personality, his USP. A brave few show it off; most sheepishly hide it from the world.

When the cell phone became a status symbol, my SWE-brother’s stated mission in life was to gauge the owner by looking at the size of the instrument. The smaller the gizmo, the bigger the a******, was his execrable line till, horror!, a New York Times reporter wrote a book using a similar analogy: the bigger the sport utility vehicle, the bigger the jerk behind the wheel.

An extrovert colleague, who shall go unnamed (wink, wink), would play a guessing game whereever we went. He would inspect the posture, clothes, spectacles, hairstyle, bags and shoes of those around him to arrive at their profession. If one of those happened to come and sit near us, he would strike up a conversation and ask point blank. (Hate to say this, Mr Smart was right many times.)

Collegial stuff like this might seem trivial and thoroughly judgmental in the context of churumuri‘s obsession with the “big picture”. But fun, harmless, time-pass activities like these reassure us that there is a life beyond corruption, secularism, communalism, casteism, criminality, elections and such like.

And it is only idiots who do not have any such idiosyncracies.

All this is by way of a preface for my own little kink: which is to watch members of the human species tackle the Masala Dosa on the sly, and to make mental notes of how they are likely to approach “similar situations” that they will unfold in life. (As you can see, I am couching my words to evade the stern editor!)

Of course, you might say that it’s not good table manners to watch other people eat. But, hey, it’s my kink, you can choose yours.

(Disclaimer: I do not have any interest in supervising the fate of the Set Dosa, Plain Dosa, Rava Dosa, Onion Dosa, Ragi Dosa, or any dosa any chef anywhere can whip up at the hands of aficionados. The only dosa that pulls my pop-psychological antenna up is the Masala Dosa.)

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To me, the world is clearly divided into Masala Dosa-eaters and potential Masala Dosa-eaters, and praise be unto both of them. (There are, as you will have no doubt noticed from your own culinary observations, no former Masala Dosa-eaters, and praise be unto the Masala Dosa for that.)

There are two clear reasons why the Masala Dosa makes for such a rivetting visual experience, even if it sounds weirdly voyeuristic. One, the fold. Two, the aloo gedde palya—the “lightly cooked filling of potatoes, fried onions, and spices”—which lies beneath the fold.

(In some parts of Andhra Pradesh, the masala of the dosa comes sacrilegiously separately in an open-top katori, like the chutney and sambar. And on Ibrahim Sahib Street in Bangalore, behind Commercial Street, Tamil families used to stuff the Masala Dosa with shavige (vermicelli) baath and some or the other rice baath. But we are not talking of the same thing.)

We are talking of the genuine article here: the Masala Dosa.

The genuine Mysore Masala Dosa gets even more interesting because there is an additional bit of suspense built into its wafer-thin architecture. Namely, the coating of red or green chutney on top of which sits the alloo-gedde palya. Like the girl in the picture (above) there are some, not many, who just cannot wait to see just what lies below the dark to golden brown crackle.

Two further caveats here. One, we are not taking into account the “Set Masala Dosa” where instead of one Masala Dosa folded on both sides, we have two smaller Dosas with a single fold. In some restaurants in Mysore, they serve palya in one and saagu in the other as if to heighten the suspense. And two, we are not talking of those silly pyramid-like vertical Masala Dosas that were the rage in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

So, by virtue of having watched countless Indians, non-resident Indians, and foreigners in several cities and countries dig into the “rice pancake with a lightly cooked filling of potatoes, fried onions, and spices” in restaurants, weddings, dosa camps and other public settings, I believe I have the requisite authority vested in me by long years of fermentation, to decree that there are exactly five kinds of Masala Dosa eaters in the world.

1) Those who start at the top

2) Those who start from the bottom

3) Those who work at the sides

4) Those who pierce the middle

5) Those who open the fold

We could argue that all these five positions depend on the angle in which the dosa is placed. But, generally speaking, the Masala Dosa seems to settle down at a 30 to 45-degree angle in most plates, with a clearly identifiable top and bottom.

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In my book (and I am unanimous about it!) those who start at the top of the Masala Dosa are mostly middle-aged men and women, and those older. These are the well-settled, organised lot, who have cracked the big mysteries of life. If they weren’t dealing with something so serious as eating a dosa, they would be sending off rockets into space. They believe in sequencing, they believe things must be done in a particular way, they believe the Masala Dosa must be eaten in a particular way. They have seen enough Masala Dosas to know what they will meet when they get in. And they have the patience to wait.

Those who start at the bottom are slightly younger, slightly more adventurous. These could be men or women. Young adults in their first or second jobs. They will effortlessly take a couple of bites from the bottom and won’t hesitate to break the sequence and try the top either. And then come back to the bottom to start all over again. There is no recognisable pattern. They believe it is still too early to decide either way. They will take it whichever way it comes.

Those who work at the sides of the Masala Dosa are usually, but not always, younger boys and girls either in love or on a fitness spree. They nibble tenderly at the roasted edges of the dosa, while they look meaningfully into the eyes of their partner or while they while away time. Each tiny crust takes an eon to melt in their mouths. This accomplishes two things for them. They spend the requisite time in conversation and they create the perception in their own minds of having eaten. Since the dosa is only incidental to their core objective, it is not unsurprising to see them leave midway.

Those who pierce the centre, delve into the middle, and wolf down the palya straightaway with the first bite are mostly young boys and teenagers. They have done the dosa in the past, they know where their sustenance for the tennis game will come from, they are hungry, and they get down to business without much ado. It’s a no-fuss relationship.

The guys who open the fold have little poetry in their hearts. They are matter-of-fact types. They know that the palya is just a small little thing in the middle. They know that if you start at the top or bottom and make your way in, there will be very little dosa left to deal with the palya. So, we might as well open the damn thing and spread it across. This demographic is also most likely to pour the chutney on top of the palya, and order a fresh katori of chutney before taking the first bite.

So, how do you do the Masala Dosa, and what does it say about who you are?

Photograph: courtesy BBC

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