Many fans would argue that pancakes are for life, not just for Shrove Tuesday. To their way of thinking, each and every day has pancake-eating potential. But in my humble opinion, when your stomach’s a-rumble, flat food can be a bit feeble. It just doesn’t seem to sate. Of course there’s a place in my both my heart and belly for Indian items including chapattis, parathas, naan, uttappams, papris, pappads, and even the handkerchief-thin roomali roti.
But no matter how fulsome the flat food feast, it never quite appeases the appetite I suspect stems from brain, not body. Dosa, on the other hand, does. My mind is easy to trick – and so the simple act of rolling or folding the thin, crispy crepes into all sorts of origami-like shapes does the trick, fooling me into feeling full.
The most filling feeds occur when that South Indian crepe conceals a dollop of something delicious, be it classic masala potatoes, grated paneer, or something altogether more queer. I love the idea of egg dosa, but in reality all it means a mere egg wash, when I really want it awash with scrambled, spicy stuff.
But then, I’m a glutton. The punishment of suffering a disappointing dosa is simply to suffer the sheer pleasure of ordering another that’s more to your taste. The very nature of dosas demand you gobble with gusto; cheap enough and light enough to allow you to experiment extensively.
Quite frankly, if you don’t do dosa you’re missing a trick. If you like good old British pancakes, French galettes, Ethiopian injera, Mexican tortillas, or Vietnamese banh xeo, Amazon would recommend you also order the super South Indian snack, and I would concur.
So let me take you by the hand and lead you through the world of dosa – and I will show you something that is sure to change your life.
Your common or garden dosa is a thin, crisp crepe based on a batter that’s a blend of soaked raw rice and black gram, ground down and allowed to lightly ferment. The prepared paste is spread over a hot tawa into discs with a diameter of up to 6 feet, as with the fantastical ‘family dosa’.
Normal specimens are somewhat smaller, but still pretty impressive sizewise. The cooked crepe can be served plain or filled; rolled, folded, teased and coaxed into whatever shape should suit. Triangles, cones and cylinders are commonplace, with fans, rockets and even ‘Mickey Mouse’ amongst the ‘avant-garde’.
Your job is merely to rip and dip – no cutlery please; God gave you those digits for eating dosa. You’ll typically receive a bowl of the super-savoury lentil soup, sambhar, of which you’ll slurp every drop, along with a trio of chutneys evoking the colours of the Indian flag; spicy chilli, snow-white coconut, herbal green. In India, condiments are chosen to compliment each different dosa, but in the UK we’re less lucky.
Dosa is divine any time of day, but in South India it’s staple breakfast fodder – particularly when filled with that starchy staple, the potato. High in protein and free from gluten, it’s a rather nutritious choice – the fermentation both increasing the vitamin content and the ease with which it’s digested.
If ‘healthy’ makes you happy, try a super-nutritious style of dosa. Alternative options include oats, wheat, and ragi dosas, Andhra Pradesh’s ‘peserattu’, and Tamil Nadu’s adai dosa. Word to the wise: it’s not the dosa, but what you fill (or brush) it with that counts. Going for a ‘ghee roast’ can turn a essentially healthy snack into a heart attack – although a dosa-induced death isn’t such a bad way to go…
- Adai dosa: a Tamilian speciality, a thick dosa whose batter includes myriad types of lentils.
- Chatamari: the Nepalese Newari answer to the South Indian dosa.
- Chocolate dosa: the Indian answer to the Nutella crepe. If you really must.
- Egg dosa: batter bushed with a layer of beaten egg whilst cooking.
- Family dosa: feeds a crowd.
- Ghee roast: extra ghee, extra crisp.
- Masala dosa: well-known spiced-potato-filled crepe, key item in an ‘Udupi breakfast’.
- Neer dosa: Karnataka’s ‘water dosa’, made with an unfermented rice batter.
- Paper dosa: extra thin, extra huge.
- Peserattu: a speciality of Andhra Pradesh, made with green gram batter.
- Podi dosa: sprinkled with dry chutney powder.
- Sada dosa: plain’n’simple.
- Set dosa: a pair or trio of small, thick and somewhat spongy dosas, Karnataka-style.
- Spring roll/Sichuan dosa: Indo-Chinese – rolled tight, stuffed with soy-seasoned veggies.
- Ragi dosa: a ‘healthful’ option, made with earthy finger millet.
- Rava dosa: an ‘instant’ unfermented type made with semolina, lacy and crisp.
Sandhya and Gaurav serve a selection of authentic Indian street food all over London. Depending on the day, you’ll find them dishing out classic rice, moong dhal or rava renditions depending on the day; plain or plumped up with potatoes or paneer.
Mr and Mrs Dosa – aka Kristian and Amy – make crepe creativity their business. The intrepid travellers are just back from eating up India, enthused afresh to develop more Asian-inspired flavours like their ‘Singapore’ or ‘Backwater Beetroot’ dosas.
The PUD crew serve dosa from their home state of Kerala at supperclubs in their current home near Kings Heath in Birmingham, as well as at local cafes and festivals. Head chef Haseen will even teach you the tricks of the trade at occasional dosa demos.
Masala dosa in Manchester? Head to Chorlton and Levenshulme markets or seek out events from the Guerilla Eats collective, where you’ll find Aarti Ormsby feeding that need with her Chaat Cart. Local, seasonal produce makes these dosas pretty damn divine.
In any neighbourhood with a sizeable South Asian population, the world is your dosa. Simply let your stomach suggest a dining destination. But Beyond that, check these:
SVB is a well-known worldwide chain, with branches in East Ham, Ilford, Harrow, Wembley, Southall and Tooting. The food won’t blow you away, but the extensive menu always offers a solid solution. Your order is subject to idiosyncratic rules on menu item availability, but they’ll do you a dosa most of the time. The ‘Tailor Made’ option allows you to choose a trio of toppings from a lengthy list.
A London chain co-founded by Camellia Panjabi, author of the excellent ‘50 Great Curries of the World’. The restaurants are best-known for regularly-changing regional thalis and street food snacks, but branches at Bayswater, Camden and Islington have also added dosas to their remit in response to customer demand.
One of my two Drummond Street stalwarts, perfect for munching a quick lunch before catching a train from Euston. With a proliference of pale pine furniture, this veggie venue feels a little like a sauna, but the food is hot stuff. Perch on a bum-numbing bench and feast fast on one of an octet of sensational dosas before you lose all sensation.
This pure vegetarian place named for the chilled Indian musician is a little less frenetic than Diwana and just as good-value when untimely central London dosa cravings set in. The menu is almost identical to its neighbour, so much so they could be twins. Options include Mysore masala, Rava Deluxe, and Dosa of the Day.
When it comes to sheer variety, Dosa & Dosa boasts the menu with the most – check out this post on the Gants Hill restaurants’ 100-strong list. Chutneys could be better and certain concepts work better than others; but when every item is under a fiver you’re not gambling with your life savings. A good one to know when only a dosa fix will save your life.
This central London secret has occupied the space above the Strand Continental Hotel since pre-partition days, founded as a place for civil servants to meet’n’eat. It’s not modern, it’s not fancy, service can be erratic…but it does do dosa, with both plain and masala varieties for less than a fiver apiece. It’s also BYO.
To be honest, I eat dosa out. I just can’t be faffed and I prefer to leave the art to the masters. But if you’re made or stupider (ahem, sterner) stuff, you’ll need a good non-stick tawa or frying pan of the largest diameter you can procure; plus patience and mettle – both of which will be tested. Godspeed. To make the going easier, try…
- Gits Mix: A just-add-water instant dry box mix. Cheaty, but good for getting to grips with technique. Widely available in rava and plain varieties.
- Wet mix: Ready-fermented, ready-to-pour, readily-available in Indian grocers’ chiller cabinets.
- Artisan batter: Ask Dosa Deli and Horn OK Please nicely and they might well sell you some – the latter will shortly make takeaway batter a menu mainstay.
- Definitive post on plain dosa from Cooking & Me
- Masala dosa from Kurryleaves
- Mysore masala dosa from Big Apple Curry
- Onion rava dosa video from Rak’s Kitchen
- Ragi dosa from Veg Recipes of India
- Adai dosa from Namita’s Kitchen
- Karnataka set dosa from My Food Tapestry
Dosa for dessert? Use these sweet batters rather than the tangy plain kind, fill… and stuff!
Now share your own dosa thinks below….
Main image: Dosa Deli