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A Love Affair With The Masala Dosa

A Love Affair With The Masala Dosa

March 31, 2011
Barnaby Haszard Morris

A foreigner finds love in Kerala, but not where you'd expect.

I think the first thing I fell in love with in Kerala was the masala dosa.

The one inarguable fact about the masala dosa is that like all regional specialties, everybody likes theirs a little different. Some people like the dosa – a pancake made by smoothing rice flour batter into a long oval on a griddle – thin and crispy, while others like it thick and soft. Some like masala – the potato mixture hidden in the middle – to be garlicky and spice-heavy, while others prefer the beetroot-infused mixture made famous by Indian Coffee Houses across Kerala. Then there are the condiments, the little metal ramekins of sambar and coconut chutney, of which there are hundreds of recipes – only one of which is 'just right' to the aficionado.

I actually had my first masala dosa in Bangalore. I was staying with a couple I'd met through CouchSurfing, and on my last morning with them, they brought in masala dosas from a street vendor near the apartment block. My God, it was delicious! I ate with relish, even mopping up the last of my coconut chutney with inexperienced fingers. At the end of it, I tried to push some money into Eva's hands to show my appreciation, but she laughed and said it was okay – they only cost 25 rupees each.

25 rupees! Barely one New Zealand dollar! A tasty, low-cost, nourishing meal, best suited for breakfast but acceptable for dinner, and with a touch of flair about it. I was in love.

Unfortunately, it took a long time until I was able to sample one again. The hotel I frequented before catching the 7:30am shuttle to work didn't serve masala dosas until 9, so for a good two months I had to be content with idli and poori. These two South Indian breakfast staples were good up to a point, but they became dull after a while. They didn't have the ongoing appeal I craved – idli were too bland, poori too oily and unhealthy... but I hadn't yet visited Cafe Mojo.

Mojo, on the ground floor of Technopark's Gayatri building, quickly became my favourite place to eat. It isn't merely that they served masala dosas; these masala dosas were like the Socratic form of masala dosas. The dosa was crispy and tasty, good enough to break bits off and eat on their own, and the masala was filled with peas just the way I like anything savoury to be filled with peas. The sambar was light, but not too watery, and the coconut chutney didn't have too many chillies. In short, they were perfect.

It became another joke in the office. Whenever I stood up to go out, rather than asking me where I was going, my friends would simply say, “Mojo?” For a while I was going there both before and after work, so besotted was I with those delicious dosas. And the days when the regular chef was off duty, and masala dosas were off, I would stand shellshocked in front of the cashier and stumble vacantly through the menu, eventually settling for something vastly inferior and unsatisfying. Not even the gooey mess they called American Chopsuey could compare to my beloved masala dosas.

When I spent my week in Mumbai last December, my hosts delighted in teasing me about them – though in truth, they did have to drag me unwillingly from one South Indian eatery. “We're going to McDonald's, Barns, you can't have a masala dosa!”

The biggest shock was to come, though: soon after my return to Kerala, and my Technopark haven, Cafe Mojo... disappeared. Well, the premises didn't disappear, but it was populated by different staff, different bottles of hand soap by the sinks, and – most unpleasant of all – a different menu, on which masala dosas were conspicuously absent. Over the month or so since this jarring change, I've visited these as-yet-unnamed impostors sullenly hoping that they've added my favourite item to the menu, but it hasn't happened yet. Mojo, meanwhile, is rumoured not to have disbanded but simply to have moved premises – to a flash new building up on the hill, leaving me feeling like an abruptly spurned lover.

I'm now in masala dosa limbo. Mojo is a little too far away to walk to before work, and not far enough to justify a rickshaw ride. Meanwhile, all the other substitutes I've tried have been unable to measure up, from Hotel New Aryaas in Kazhakuttam to the Vegetarian Refreshment Room at Varkala railway station. Some are better than others, and I would even admit that some are very good, but they're not Mojo. And once you find a masala dosa you like, you can never replace it.

I think the first thing I fell in love with about Kerala was the masala dosa. The one inarguable fact about the masala dosa is that like all regional specialties, everybody likes theirs a little different. Some people like the dosa – a pancake made by smoothing rice flour batter into a long oval on a griddle – thin and crispy, while others like it thick and soft. Some like masala – the potato mixture hidden in the middle – to be garlicky and spice-heavy, while others prefer the beetroot-infused mixture made famous by Indian Coffee Houses across Kerala. Then there are the condiments, the little metal ramekins of sambar and coconut chutney, of which there are hundreds of recipes – only one of which is 'just right' to the aficionado. I actually had my first masala dosa in Bangalore. I was staying with a couple I'd met through CouchSurfing, and on my last morning with them, they brought in masala dosas from a street vendor near the apartment block. My God, it was delicious! I ate with relish, even mopping up the last of my coconut chutney with inexperienced fingers. At the end of it, I tried to push some money into Eva's hands to show my appreciation, but she laughed and said it was okay – they only cost 25 rupees each. 25 rupees! Barely one New Zealand dollar! A tasty, low-cost, nourishing meal, best suited for breakfast but acceptable for dinner, and with a touch of flair about it. I was sold. Unfortunately, it took a long time until I was able to sample one again. The hotel I frequented before catching the 7:30am shuttle to work didn't serve masala dosas until 9, so for a good two months I had to be content with idli and poori. These two South Indian breakfast staples were good up to a point, but they became dull after a while. They didn't have the ongoing appeal I craved – idli were too bland, poori too oily and unhealthy – but I hadn't yet visited Cafe Mojo. Mojo, on the ground floor of Technopark's Gayatri building, quickly became my favourite place to eat. It isn't merely that they served masala dosas; these masala dosas were like the Socratic form of masala dosas. The dosa was crispy and tasty, good enough to break bits off and eat on their own, and the masala was filled with peas just the way I like anything savoury to be filled with peas. The sambar was light, but not too watery, and the coconut chutney didn't have too many chillies. In short, they were perfect. It became another joke in the office. Whenever I stood up to go out, rather than asking me where I was going, my friends would simply say, “Mojo?” For a while I was going there both before and after work, so besotted was I with those delicious dosas. And the days when the regular chef was off duty, and masala dosas were off, I would stand shellshocked in front of the cashier and stumble vacantly through the menu, eventually settling for something vastly inferior and unsatisfying. Not even the gooey mess they called American Chopsuey could compare to my beloved masala dosas. When I spent my week in Mumbai last December, my hosts delighted in teasing me about them – though in truth, they did have to drag me unwillingly from one South Indian eatery. “We're going to McDonald's, Barns, you can't have a masala dosa!” The biggest shock was to come, though: soon after my return to Kerala, and my Technopark haven, Cafe Mojo... disappeared. Well, the premises didn't disappear, but it was populated by different staff, different bottles of hand soap by the sinks, and – most unpleasant of all – a different menu, on which masala dosas were conspicuously absent. Over the month or so since this jarring change, I've visited these as-yet-unnamed impostors sullenly hoping that they've added my favourite item to the menu, but it hasn't happened yet. Mojo, meanwhile, is rumoured not to have disbanded but simply to have moved premises – to a flash new building up on the hill, leaving me feeling like a spurned lover. I'm now in masala dosa limbo. Mojo is a little too far away to walk to before work, and not far enough to justify a rickshaw ride. Meanwhile, all the other substitutes I've tried have been unable to measure up, from Hotel New Aryaas in Kazhakuttam to the Vegetarian Refreshment Room at Varkala railway station. Some are better than others, and I would even admit that some are very good, but they're not Mojo. And once you find a masala dosa you like, you can never replace it.


32 Comments

  • 09.07.13 11:56 AM
    Masala dosa's in Bangalore.. Yumm!!
  • Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    By
    Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    07.11.11 01:07 PM
    Great post! And yes, nothing to beat a masala or even sada dosa... well, perhaps a stuffed paratha (being a Punjabi, which implies I am both a gourmet and a gourmand, I am partial to those as well!)
  • The Living wine
    By
    The Living wine
    05.11.11 11:08 PM
    I love masala dosa.. and now am going to have it :)
  • Shachi Pathak
    By
    Shachi Pathak
    02.08.11 12:47 PM
    Its is Masala Dosa that always lures me to think, "Why am I not a South Indian?"
  • Maryanne J
    By
    Maryanne J
    23.07.11 11:40 PM
    Hey B. - Write about the poori SOON-ish!
  • Cutting Kahlua
    By
    Cutting Kahlua
    02.06.11 07:58 PM
    I like masala doasas too. Here in Mumbai you sometimes get masala dosa thats not exactly like the ones down south. But I love those too.
    I remember having masala dosa at a hotel called Gauri Nivas in Trivandrum. I don't know if its close to the technopark. But they had great dosas too. However, I like rava dosas as much as masala dosas.
  • Rookie
    By
    Rookie
    14.05.11 06:16 PM
    Nice post !. I love Masala dosa and Now i am craving for one.
  • Anil
    By
    Anil
    01.05.11 03:48 AM
    It's almost 3.47am(Thrissur,Kerala) here and guess what, this post has made me hungry!
    Anyways, hoping for the "Return of the Mojo" :D
  • Archana
    By
    Archana
    23.04.11 07:11 PM
    Do you like Kerala???
  • Rajani@eatwritethink
    By
    Rajani@eatwritethink
    11.04.11 11:50 AM
    what an ode to the masala dosa... my favourite food as well... couldnt agree with you more on once you find your masala dosa its hard to settle for just any... for me the best masala dosa was at trivandrum - sadly i am confused abt where i had it - so i guess its pointless to talk abt it :o
  • priya
    By
    priya
    05.04.11 05:35 PM
    There are around 150 types of dosa available. It's kind of turning into a pizza like thing, with all kinds of toppings. I was shocked to see a shop in a mall which served 150 varieties of dosa. I bet not even the mallus are aware of this :) But dosa wins hands down in comparison to pizza any day.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    05.04.11 02:34 PM
    So glad this piece has gotten a good reception. It's all testament to the wonder of a glorious dish.

    Thank you all for your support :) I've learned of some new things too, like where to get dosas and Bangalore, and this mysterious new recipe called a 'tomato dosa' - intriguing!

    Shall I write a piece about poori now?
  • IdeasMakeMarket.com
    By
    IdeasMakeMarket.com
    04.04.11 03:36 AM
    Great article... nice... read
  • Digvijaya
    By
    Digvijaya
    03.04.11 09:44 PM
    wow wow wow...superb connotation!!
  • ravi swami
    By
    ravi swami
    03.04.11 08:46 PM
    ...speaking of which, I just had lunch at "Ahaa Dosa" in beautiful downtown Hounslow, West london - OK-ish, but would have liked something more & NO "MULUGA PODDI" (cardinal sin...)

    Mind you, we eat it at home, home-made, pretty much every day....
  • sajeev kumar menon
    By
    sajeev kumar menon
    03.04.11 06:07 PM
    That was a very vivid description of the masala dosa! Right from the texture of the dosa, the filling, the coconut chutney, the sambar and even the pricing! You have really done your research! If we happen to meet, I shall treat you to one:-)
  • Baljit
    By
    Baljit
    02.04.11 06:29 PM
    Always love reading your posts Barnaby. This made me hungry but living in London although there are a number of places to buy Dosa it is just not the same as South India.
  • Anto
    By
    Anto
    02.04.11 04:07 PM
    With you description of MASALA DOSA, you made me hungry. Isn't it a wonderful breakfast choice? Thanks for motivating me, I'm gonna grab one now :)
  • pramod
    By
    pramod
    02.04.11 03:33 PM
    the masala dosa, great dish of great people.
  • priya
    By
    priya
    02.04.11 12:11 PM
    I love Masala Dosa and its a regular for us south indians!But i am glad even you enjoyed it. Sometimes it tends to be spicy but makes up as a light meal.
  • Mohini
    By
    Mohini
    02.04.11 11:39 AM
    I also love Masala dosa! and south Indian food. beautiful post.
  • seema
    By
    seema
    01.04.11 11:53 PM
    After reading your post, I just feel like having a masala dosa.. gosh where am i gonna get one at this midnight..

    Good post u have here !
  • esh
    By
    esh
    01.04.11 07:20 PM
    i love both bangalore as well as tamil nadu's dosas...!!
    but bangalore is famed for this masala dosa variety... u can get a good one in janatha hotel malleshwaram or in slv!!
  • Hemal Shah
    By
    Hemal Shah
    01.04.11 05:23 PM
    Most of the chefs have different style of cooking and different taste as well, so its better you hunt that cook down rather than looking for alternatives.. lol
  • dubugu
    By
    dubugu
    01.04.11 03:57 PM
    I like Masala Dosa & Tomato Dosa my favorite. In bangalore most Shanti sagar outlets make decent Tomato Dosa.. I even liked the way they pack it for take away. Never seen such thing anywhere else. Miss Bangalore :-( Good post, and a thoroughly enjoying one
  • S.R.Ayyangar
    By
    S.R.Ayyangar
    01.04.11 09:29 AM
    Next time when you are in Bangalore, taste the 'Benne dosa' ( Butter Dosa) available at select outlets like Vidyarthi Bhavan in Basvangudi or CTR in Malleswaram.
  • Shrinidhi Hande
    By
    Shrinidhi Hande
    01.04.11 12:27 AM
    Still my favorite...!
  • Rituparna
    By
    Rituparna
    31.03.11 10:16 PM
    That is so true. I have eaten Dosa's all over India but the one's I find back home are the best. The dilemma's of a Foodie.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    31.03.11 10:10 PM
    Thank you all for your comments!

    I just have to add that the picture above shows a masala dosa intoxicatingly similar in colour & crispiness to the ones I am missing from Cafe Mojo.

    I don't know how much longer I can look at that picture.
  • sandy
    By
    sandy
    31.03.11 10:57 AM
    ooops! poor you. i know the feeling-its as if your entire world has shifted! i miss india's masala dosas too-especially at 25 rupees!
  • Varun
    By
    Varun
    31.03.11 10:02 AM
    Lovely post Morris! Glad someone like you is fond of a 'daily bread' of South Indians. Kerala has always been rich when it comes to the taste buds and I hope to read more such posts which drive me to eat them :)
  • Maria
    By
    Maria
    31.03.11 08:17 AM
    Mr.B as always, your article was funny and to-the-point. You have rekindled my own love for Masala Dosas, something that I had curbed to lose some mean pounds.

    And I have been transported back to my kitchen table at home, while Mummy roasts me 1 masala dosa after another. Hot off the griddle, with a generous helping of potato masala and love. Yum, yum! And I do hope Cafe Mojo moves closer soon. Wouldn't want you pining away in Romeo style forever :)

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