Rude dosa or good dosa?

September 24, 2010

You can put a five-star kitchen through a litmus test by asking room service to serve you dosa, feels Mr Vir Sanghvi. If it arrives cold, the chef fails; otherwise, he gets the credit for hatching a brilliant plan to keep the dosa hot, crisp and hence palatable.

Well, i agree and disagree.

At Agra’s Gateway Hotel (the erstwhile Taj View) last month, i had asked for a masala dosa at a breakfast buffet in its coffee shop. The sous chef nodded and i was served, 10 minutes later, a dosa, limp and tasteless, as happens to dosas which rapidly lose steam even before you can spoon the sambar. On top of that, the subzi inside the dosa reeked of raw turmeric; the chef must have needlessly hurried things up.

Masala dosa at Saravana Bhavan (Pic: mlinksva/Flickr)

I chatted up a restaurant staff and told him that the chef just failed the ‘Sanghvi Test’. Otherwise a knowledgeable gentleman — he claimed to have worked with the Qureshi brothers of the ITC fame — he drew a blank on being pointed out that my table was barely 20 feet from the open kitchen where the chef was churning out the buffet breakfast. “Well, we will have to see why it happened,” he mumbled in so forlorn a manner that I feared he would say the next moment: “Sir, the dish went cold because the restaurant is air conditioned”.

If the Taj Group finds it so tough serving a dosa hot and crisp — and i was not even eating in my room — why should i order a dosa at a star restaurant and blow up a fortune for nothing? I would rather have, as i did the morning after the dosa disaster, a jumbo egg-white omelette, a crisp wheat bread, waffles with maple syrup and an Earl Grey, stuff that you don’t get at an average breakfast joint.

As an extension of this logic, there are plenty of dishes to judge a multi-cuisine five-star kitchen by other than a dosa. Mr Sanghvi’s logic holds good only if you are dining at a niche south Indian restaurant such as the ITC’s Dakshin.

Dosa at the iconic MTR in Bangalore (Pic: feministjulie/Flickr)

Otherwise, the whole exercise of judging a kitchen only by the crispiness of a dosa betrays gastronomic snobbery and amounts to something as immature as telling your mom: “You are a bad cook because the rice is not piping hot.”

So where would i walk into when I feel like dunking a simple sada dosa into a steaming bowl of sambar? Anand or Madras Café in Kolkata, Saravana Bhawan and Banana Leaf in Delhi and pretty much every eatery (of course, MTR in Bangalore) in the southern half of the country.

(Last year, when i had placed an order at the dingy and impossibly cheap Madras Café in Kolkata’s Esplanade for probably the 99th time, the dosa came almost hissing and steaming and I remember having to wait for a minute or two before tucking into it.)

I know I must have missed scores of other restaurants in Mumbai but my point is you need not check into at, say, Oberoi Amarvilas or Four Seasons, Bombay to sample their dosa and accordingly pass or fail their kitchens.

At least, i won’t, because the best things in life almost always come in the simplest of forms and shapes and from the simplest of places.

Do you feel the same?

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6 Responses to “Rude dosa or good dosa?”

  1. Sharmi said

    That is why I never try South Indian fares when we do breakfast in posh five-star eateries. i always love my toasts, eggs, greens, brownies and so on. You should also try them. They are yummy 🙂

  2. netdhaba said

    Hmm… I also agree, though the much-touted American Breakfast at Flurry’s in Calcutta bombed spectacularly. And as far as i know, the eatery sources much of its food, especially pastries, and sometimes chefs from the Park. So, a particular meal, i believe, is sometimes best left to your luck 🙂
    Thanks for the comment

  3. NP said

    This reminds me of the time we had south Indian lunch buffet at Woodlands Restaurant in Langley Park, on the border between Maryland and Washington D.C. They passed the “dosa test” you mentioned, and how! They were crisp, the potato stuffing was really well-done, and not overly spicy. I think they’re as good as the Sarvanna Bhawans and Madras Cafes of India. It’s $10 for the buffet, all you can eat! Dosas, idlis, upma, vada, and a host of other stuff, with chutneys, sambars, and other liquid delights. I remember stuffing myself silly and then groaning all the way back home because I’d overeaten 🙂

  4. netdhaba said

    @NP: Wow! Fantastic spread for $10! Great to learn that you get a better south Indian meal and deal in the US of A than you get in many elite restaurants in India!
    Thanks for the comment and please read on 🙂

  5. Sharmi gave me this link and what do I find a blog which looks so professional my ordinary one pales in comparison but what the heck we all love good food that is what matters.BTW once on one of our trips to the south we were served soggy dosas and cold sambars. This in the land of dosas and sambars, this is usually unthinkable in Mumbai. Here the dosas are usually crisp and the sambars piping hot.

  6. netdhaba said

    @Shilpi Bose: Thank you for making time to read this blog. I just saw your blog and found it colorful and vibrant, and not at all amateurish you make it to be. And as you said, we all love food and that’s what matters.
    Discerning foodies like you inspire me to write.
    Thank you for the comment and please read on 🙂

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