Spreading dosa culture
Chss sss ss..,. goes the sound in many a South Indian home during breakfast time. With a sleight of hand unique to a “Southy” housewife, a white liquid is spread on a black “tava”, which crackles with glee as she circles it with a spoonful of oil.
Little pores sprout in the white smooth surface before she flicks it on to a plate — the “dosa” is ready! For centuries, this has been the staple breakfast of millions of Swaminathans and Vishwanathans all over the world and is classed as a universal favourite.
The art of making a “dosa” is acquired over a period of time. The right combination of “dal” and rice” the paste ground to the desired smoothness and, finally, spread out to an aesthetically appealing diameter uniformly thin — one of the first lessons in culinary expertise, taught to a young girl. When a girl has perfected this, she is ready for marriage. She must remember to spread the mixture clockwise or otherwise she may be widowed — so goes the legend!
When I was holidaying in Mussoorie, I had a perfectly made dosa in a “dhaba” run by Sher Singh. Intrigued by his mastery, I was told that Sher Singh spent 10 years in the galleys of Udupi restaurants in Bangalore and Mangalore and set up shop only after he was certified by connoisseurs that his dosas were authentic!
In Mysore, in one of the quiet by lanes, there is an eating house where you are treated to “set” dosas — four piping hot ones served on a green banana leaf and topped with coconut chutney. Students and office-goers haunt this place which has retained its identity for sheer quality.
As you motor your way up the winding path fringed with lush greenery to the Nilgiris, you stop by at Gundalpet and have a paper dosa which is two ft long. The ideal way to eat this will be to tear off alternate pieces from the left and right and meet in the centre. Only an expert will be able to go through the whole thing before it cools!
In his composition class, my six- year-old nephew was asked to write an essay on “three national things” — he listed the lotus, the flag and dosa! He substantiated the last one by saying that only when he brought “dosa” for lunch, all his friends clamoured for a share!
Going by his logic I made a mental note of the people around me when I went to eat at “Woodlands” — sure enough there were Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Bengalis, Punjabis, Parsis, Muslims and Christians all eating the same thing — dosa The only variety in it was that some preferred the exotic “butter masala” while some settled for the humble “sada”!
As my neighbour — an incurable dosa eater — says, Dosa making is not a mere activity — it’s a culture!