Arguably, dosa is THE South Indian snack on the global map today. Idli and vada do rear their heads occasionally, but none enjoy the worldwide appeal that its flat-faced sibling does.
One evident reason is also the relatability of dosa. It is easy to explain it as a rice pancake, usually consumed with a spicy curry called sambar and coconut chutney. Vada is a very difficult doughnut to describe, and idli is so niched that one has to eat it to understand it. So, if a Jamaican or Ukrainian ever sets foot inside a South Indian cafe and reads the food descriptions, the dosa is what will invite them in.
But rest of the world aside, there are also a few reasons why it beats other snacks WITHIN India.
Firstly, it is incredibly versatile. You can eat it solo or with sambar and chutney for breakfast. One can pair it with curries for a proper meal. In some cases, you could also consume it with jaggery and coconut to double up as an actual dessert. Most importantly, dosa is a natural replacement for roti or any other form of Indian bread, giving it a unique standing.
But if you thought that dosa was a standard product in all the states south of the Narmada, think again. There are as many variations of dosa across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala, as there are variations of pizza across the globe. The composition can vary from rice to Bengal-gram to mung beans to semolina based on your preference and inclination towards healthy eating. But the ingredients aside, the main point of contention for the dosa has always been its texture. How many are there? -
Thin and crispy - every dosa found in North India for some reason! 🤷🏻♂️
Thin and soft - Neer dosa, a Maharashtrian variant called 'ghavne'.
Thick and fluffy - Davangere 'benne' dosa
Thick and crispy - most of the dosas served in Bengaluru and Mysuru
Before I step into controversial waters, let me first clarify that I am not a professional dosa critic. I like thin and crispy dosas and respect at least two of the three other varieties mentioned above. To promote further reading, I will obviously single out the least favourite category in the end. 😋
I'd argue that though I love my dosa thin and roasted to a crisp, it does have its limitations. That sort of dosa eats best as a standalone breakfast snack with chutney and sambar on the side. The crispiness makes it hard to wield as a slice of bread, and the lightness does not qualify it to be a meal replacement. Nevertheless, a perfectly buttered crisp dosa can bring a wide smile to my face no matter the time of the day. 🙂
Thin and soft is, in my opinion, the most versatile category of dosas. If consumed piping hot, they can do okay as a breakfast snack with the appropriate chutney. But these dosas really shine as an accompanying bread with curries. For instance, consider the aforementioned 'ghavne' that pairs perfectly with spicy Malvani chicken curry or the more rigid version of the same dosa, ideal for Malabar style chicken curry in the south. I won't exaggerate, but sometimes I find the dosa-curry combo a tad bit better than the North Indian roti-curry offerings. Why? Rice pancakes are porous and absorb the curry wonderfully. Moreover, the subtle blandness of rice makes it the ideal companion to let the spices in the curry shine. So, anytime I crave a dosa meal, thin and soft it is. 😎
Okay, the moment of truth. The third kind that I like on a fine day is the thick and crispy kind served in certain spots of Bengaluru. And I specified 'some time' because this kind of dosa neither needs nostalgia nor the weird craving for a heavy breakfast paired with filter coffee. Let me explain.
Step into Vidyarthi Bhavan or CTR, and you will be greeted with a thick dosa roasted to a crispy brown texture on one side. You can taste the ghee oozing out from the caramelized end, and at the same time, soak plenty of sambar on the fluffy end. If you had to imagine this sort of a dosa, think of flat idlis coated with a vada-like texture on one side. It is unique and satisfactory when executed perfectly. But the issue with this kind of dosa is that it can't be a daily breakfast item, thanks to the copious amount of oozing ghee. It can't be a curry accompaniment either because eating this dosa with curry is akin to eating paneer-stuffed bhaturas with chhole. Yes, that is an actual brunch snack in Delhi, but that is Delhi. 😂 They have developed a humongous appetite for heavy food over years of hogging on kulche, kachori and paranthe in biting cold winters. So, yes, on the right day and in the right place, I'd have one of these Bengaluru specialities. 😁
So, the only variant left is the thick and soft kind. Sadly, I don't blame the folks who love this kind of dosa. We've all had an upbringing that influences our palette, dominated by the food we ate as kids. Some of us eventually tasted other renditions of those dishes and evolved our palettes. The thick and soft variety is dosa is one of those cases. For the people who don't know any better, well, they simply don't know any better! 🤷🏻♂️ But I am sure that when introduced to the 'better' varieties of dosa, they'd change camp immediately.
In conclusion, let me leave you with this thought on the dosa. Have it thin or have it fluffy, but don't you dare underestimate it even for a minute. It is the only dish from India that can claim to have a hundred and one varieties of itself, and rightly so.
Dos-a thing need more explanation? 😎