Growing up in the fish-and-rice obsessed Calcuttal, the South Indian dosa was a once-in-a-while treat. I remember we’d drive to a little diner-like place on Chowringhee next to gas station for these e-nor-mous conical dosas – larger than my arm span.
The ones I really liked were the cheap street cart ones that my dad wouldn’t touch because it spelled bad oil and food poisoning. But the ting-ting of the dosa man and his rickety cart always sent me running down for the treat and my iron stomach was none the worse for the clearly poisonous ware!
When I went away to college in Pune, I was hit hard with the lack of regular Bengali food in a mostly vegetarian landscape – especially fish and meat. One of the cheaper things I could afford to eat out as a student there was the Udipi staple – idli and dosa. In the two years I was there, that quickly lost appeal and I swore off dosas for a while, refusing to touch them when I was visited home.
Fast forward to Boston where my South Indian friends would make dosas and idlis on weekends as a special treat. With even the best of Bengali food never tasting the way it did back home – and the same with all Indian food here – dosas became a real treat – again. We would take the train out to Framingham to go to the only Udipi restaurant in the area although it wasn’t very good and often made us sick.
Now we have many more options. I take my friends to Dosa Factory in Central Square where it is decent and cheap, and liked one that comes with the weekend vegetarian buffet at the fairly new Dosa Temple on Somerville Avenue (though I am yet to try one off the regular menu that looks really promising). They have a list of 15 dosas from a smaller cheese version for kids ($4.95) to the regular masala dosa with potato filling ($7.95) and fancier versions with spices, cottage cheese or varied vegetables. They have a special dosa night on Thursdays.
My greatest find, however, has been a homemade pint of dosa mix at the Indian grocery store located in the Market Basket parking lot. I didn’t grow up making dosas but the batter is so good and the process so simple, a child could do it.
Heat some oil or butter or ghee in a pan. Take a dollop, drop it like pancake batter and spread it out with the back of a ladle in a pan (the street carts would use the cut off top stem of an eggplant!).
Wait for it to crisp (no need to turn), fold on a plate and serve with any filling – chutney, potato curry, spice paste, chicken stew… or on its own like I like it – crunchy, golden, slightly sour and delicious.