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Anytime snack

Restaurants sporting exotic names and serving out-of-the-ordinary food are on the rise. Yet, the humble dosa remains a hot favourite


CALL IT dosa, pancake or crepe. The fact remains that the South Indian staple is a favourite with connoisseurs and commoners alike. The swish and the swirl of the batter on the tawa entices everyone to eat it at any time of the day. The dosa may have metamorphosed into many versions but it still remains close to everyone's palate and heart. Along with the idli and vada, it continues to be part of the triumvirate of tiffin down South. Slowly, it has traversed a path — culinary and international — from the hearth of South Indian homes. Today, perhaps after chicken tikka and samosa, dosa is the most popular crossover item.

The chefs' ingenuity knows no bounds when it comes to creating dosas. For they have far exceeded the humble and ubiquitous sada or masala dosa which we all ate and still eat. The dosa scores on the popularity charts — the city hosts dosa festivals and restaurants vie with one another to dish out myriad varieties. It has even led to the rise of exclusive dosa restaurants.

The dosa, known by various names, dosa, dosai, dosha, tosai, comes in various shapes and sizes with or without fillings. Small or large, shaped like a cone or just folded like a roll or a crepe, a triangle or a rectangle, it has certainly broken barriers and trudged ahead. "A rice and lentil pancake, dosa is the Indian alternative to finger food. With Indian food getting popular abroad and the fusion concept in, the innovations in the dosa stem from creative endeavours. The dosa too has various stuffings like the crepes of France. It is also fermented like the pancake," says O. P. Khantwal, Executive Chef, ITC Group.

From the kal dosa made in South Indian homes, the dosa has also changed with the trends in cuisine. With the introduction of the nouvelle cuisine in the 1980s, the presentation was different. The size was small and the shapes were cone and triangle. Later on, the fusion concept saw the change in the kind of stuffings according to evolving tastes. Hence, the many varieties," explain food connoisseurs.

A dosa can be as small (like a mini dosa or a banana dosa) or as large as the family dosa (about 4-6 ft in length). The best part of the dosa is it is fresh food. Served plain or with stuffings, it has chutney (different varieties), sambar and gunpowder as side dishes. The stuffing (originally vegetarian now extended to non-vegetarian) is what imparts the name to the dosa. The popularity also saw the invention of a dosa machine in Chennai. It's a different matter that it did not work for long.

Why is the dosa a favourite today? From the rich to the poor, the dosa tops every one's list. Even children invariably prefer the dosa over idli. The dosa can be had at any part of the day — as a breakfast dish, a snack or a meal by itself. "It is light yet filling too (particularly with stuffing) like the tortillas (of Mexico) and pancakes," says T. Karthik, a student, gorging on a crispy dosa at a restaurant on Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai.

"Dosa is preferred by many for its taste. It is extremely delicious," says Vinay Mehta, an office-goer. The fact that it can be rustled up in a jiffy too makes it popular. For the housewives it is easy to make. "It can be made in a short time even when unexpected guests come over," says Parvathi Ashok, who juggles between hectic professional schedules and domestic commitments. That it is easy to cook, cheap and served fresh adds to its popularity. It is also suitable to the Western palate as there is no spice," says Chef Khantwal.

The amazing aspect of the dosa is it lends itself to creativity. Chefs and housewives can churn out various versions to suit practically every palate. "One can even use left over vegetables or even a salad as stuffing," says Chef Khantwal. Housewives experiment with dosa batter to make children and adults eat.

The number of dosas is mind-boggling. Besides the regular one (made of rice and urad dal), rawa dosa, uttapam and pesarattu there are a variety of adais (made of lentils and rice) and other dosas made in the Mangalore region (which are sweet and savoury). Neer dosa (made of rice and hence is white in colour) is the main speciality in Mangalore. It is served with chicken curry. Jackfruit dosa, cucumber dosa and maida dosa are the other varieties made in homes.

Hotels and restaurants too are experimenting with various versions. A dosa with a stuffing of carrot halwa or badam halwa too can be tried out. Using the pizza concept one can have a thick base of dosa batter (without salt) with a topping of glazed fresh strawberries, caramelised nuts and tutti-frutti too," say the chefs.

Tastes change with travel. With the influence of Mexican, Thai and Chinese cuisine, stuffings from these cuisines are also being tried out. Imagination can run riot when it comes to the dosa. Chennai-ites are game to try various options.

The bottom line is whatever be the filling, it is the taste that finally counts. Indeed the dosa has come a long way and has miles to go.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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