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Get Cookin' Woman!

Get Cookin' Woman!

December 19, 2011
Angela Carson

Holy masala dosa! Come experience a day as a white girl line-cooks in a typical Indian restaurant.
 

I’m always fascinated by the diversity of restaurants here in India.  There are mobile street stalls that are no bigger than a couple square meters where you can grab a quick snack; there are decadent restaurants that rival the hottest spots in Paris.  And there are fantastic, typical street-side restaurants that serve “fast food” downstairs – which basically means that you go to a counter and place an order, pay, walk to another counter to pass off your ticket to the kitchen.  Then, once your food is done, you eat it standing up ‘community style’ at one of a dozen counters there in the front of the restaurant.  A lot of these places also have quaint dining rooms with service upstairs, like the fantastic vegetarian restaurant New Krishna Sagar in Bangalore where I was recently put to work for a couple of hours as a cook (this is where we were).

I have been coo coo for masala dosas since I enjoyed the first bite of one back in June at the infamous Airlines Hotel in downtown Bangalore.  I can’t really explain why but I have an odd obsession with this food and will go through phases when I crave one almost every single day…though thankfully I don’t give in to my craving that often.  Lordy, imagine what my ass would look like if I did!  So what better way to feed the obsession than to go on an adventure into a typical Indian restaurant and learn exactly what goes into creating this yummy Indian fast food treat.

The opportunity to work as a cook came up quite spontaneously while I was out and about in town already running errands.  I was wearing a relatively long flowing floral frock, a silk scarf and my favourite Tod’s strappy heels. Not exactly the most appropriate outfit for what I was about to do but as they say back home in Spain “es lo que hay” (it is what it is) so I just went for it.  Mahabala K. Poojari, the charming and hospitable owner of New Krishna Sagar, agreed to donate his time to explain the ABC’s of the restaurant and show me how masala dosa is made.

In India, business doesn’t happen until a sufficient amount of personal interaction has taken place first.  So when business is with a restaurateur you can imagine that it will involve food and drinks. So in keeping with Indian tradition, Mahabala basically tried to force feed me lunch and Indian sweets, which would be rude for me to refuse.  And normally I would be all over this generosity, trust me, I can be quite a little piggy.  My only problem is that I am in full-swing bikini boot camp mode in preparation for Goa in January so I really didn’t need or want anything.  But my friend said that I would be insulting the owner if I didn’t…so I enjoyed a small sweet pastry and fresh watermelon juice, which seemed enough to please the owner.

If you have never had the pleasure of eating a masala dosa, you are really missing out.  This magical treat is essentially a thick Indian crepe that has been brushed with spicy red chilli, it is both sweet and salty, then filled with a – of course, spicy – mixture of herbs, onions, potato, cashews, lentils, etc etc… and rolled up either burrito style or into a 2-dimentional triangle if you can picture that.  It’s pure heaven.

My first lesson took place in the grain storeroom where I was shown exactly which legumes and grains are processed, ground up and then refined even further in order to make the fresh flour that is then mixed with salt and water to create the perfect batter.  They don’t use manufactured flour for their dosas, which ensures the quality is just right and it keeps costs down.  It’s fresh and you can really taste the difference.

Next we moved downstairs from the grain storeroom into the kitchen and there we actually caused quite a stir.  I think it’s safe to say that a white girl in a dress and heels had never walked into that kitchen to work before and we actually had a little crowd of staff following us around, it was cute. One of the staff had prepared a platter with all of the necessary ingredients to make the potato filling and the owner put me to work in front of the largest wok-like pan I had ever seen.  It was shiny silver and smouldering hot and he walked me through the process of making the filling.  First we seasoned the pan with oil, and then started adding spices, legumes, chillies and onions… we added in basically a huge handful of some delicious smelling herbs and coriander and the aroma coming up from the mix was wonderful.  Coarsely chopped cashews were the last ingredient added into it…yum yum!!  Once the mix had cooked enough I was given a spoon to taste test and it was delicious.

From there we went to where the real action is and I was put to work in the open kitchen of New Krishna Sagar that faces the street.  Now THAT was interesting, I think just as much for me as for the guests outside looking in at this blonde behind the grill whipping up their dosas! My first attempt at making a dosa was a nightmare, I poured the batter completely wrong, didn’t add enough clarified butter to it, you name it….I messed it up.  So I asked the chef to show me exactly how to do it ….again!!!

After that I stepped back in and actually did it right.  Not PERFECT, but at least more or less right.  First, you take a cup of water and pour it onto the grill and move it around to freshen up the grill using a bunch of branches or long reeds that are tied together, which is really fun.  Then you dip into the batter and pour it onto the grill in one pile and use the bottom of the cup to spread the batter and make a nice big dosa.  Once it has been spread out to the right size, you sprinkle a little ghee – or clarified butter – on it and spread on red chilli paste.  Last, grab a handful of the potato filling (and by grab I mean literally grab it with my hand) and place it in a ball on the centre of the dosa and let it cook for a minute or so.

So there I was, hot and sweaty at the grill, whipping up masala dosas, placing them onto plates or into to-go boxes, and serving customers.  It was actually really fun. And quite funny every time I did something wrong because the entire kitchen and all of the guests of New Krishna Sagar standing outside in front of the counter would laugh with me as I tried again.  Okay, probably they were laughing AT me, not with me, but it was all in good fun.

At the end of my “shift” I marched myself upstairs with the owner and enjoyed the fruits of my labour.  Mmmmm mmmmm, I was hungry from the hard work at this point too so I thought “screw bikini bootcamp” and I gobbled up my masala dosa with my hands in record time. 

22 Comments

  • Keri
    By
    Keri
    23.12.11 03:38 AM
    @Angela: Thank you and Happy Holidays to you and your daughter!!
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    22.12.11 03:44 PM
    @Keri

    I don't know how someone can reply what I wrote for you and crack up without reading it. Any way, what I write gets exactly where its intended. LOL!!

    Facing facts is really very bitter unfortunately. Keep on fighting Keri. Failures do become the pillars of our dreams.

    Compliments of the Season.
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    22.12.11 03:26 PM
    @Keri - it's seriously not even worth it but I love your fighting spirit :-) I've stopped reading his comments but get the jist from reading yours and it cracks me up :-) Have a great holiday if we don't "cyber chat" again before Christmas.
  • Keri
    By
    Keri
    22.12.11 02:59 PM
    Crap, the post ended up being long-winded anyway.
  • Keri
    By
    Keri
    22.12.11 02:58 PM
    Haha, it's funny that you made that comment about me 'seeming to know all the answers' when every time you post, it's like reading a freaking encyclopedia entry. Anyway, I was thinking of writing a long winded response to yours, but I decided against it as even I am bored by that idea.

    All I will say is this: while I have no doubts that the restaurants in India might not be the most hygienic in the world, what I do know is that I didn't get sick even one day out of the 29 that I was there last year (and no, I wasn't eating in any fancy places that cater to tourists or the Bollywood crowd. I couldn't afford that. Only local places for me. As for the water, even my Indian friends in Delhi and Pune drank bottled water so that was never an issue for me). In fact, the only time that I've ever had any food-borne sickness was after eating dinner at a Michelin rated restaurant (2 stars) in America. So while India restaurants might not be perfect, no place else is either. That's the only thing that I "know".

    Oh, and since you're so fond of links, check this one out:
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/rii/index.shtml
    This link is for the NYC Dept. of Health's Restaurant Inspection Information page. NYC now gives out letter grades to all restaurants, with an A, obviously, being the best grade. Type in the zip code 10014 (# 5 on the list of Forbes' most expensive zip codes in America last year) and also click "Surrounding Zip Codes". Then start clicking on the restaurants, all A rated, and look at what some of the red "critical violations". I think you might be a little surprised being that we have to "follow certain laws how foods are prepared for the good health of the consuming public." For informational purposes only.

    I'm sure you'll have a response to this post, as you always seem to want the last word, so you can have it. I've said all I have to say, thanks.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    22.12.11 05:23 AM
    @Keri

    You seem to be knowing all the answers to a problem of food poisoning in India and are advising me to ignore things I have been warned many times over when I travel to India. Well you go ahead and please yourself when you are in India. The pleasure of feeding yourself on bacteria is entirely yours. In no way, Not mine.

    Read the following article for which I have provided the the Link and pour your heart out against such warnings Lady. Say it happens in America and why should it be wrong if it happens in India? You can make yourself a self appointed advisor on restaurant food in India and ask everyone to ignore those warnings.

    I notice you are jumping in front of a moving train for someone else every time. A fellow citizen? LOL

    Deleted due to potential copyright infringement
  • Keri
    By
    Keri
    22.12.11 12:33 AM
    @Rajpriya - I'm assuming from your comments on hygiene in the gastronomy industry that you no longer go to restaurants or eat take out. Anyone with even a little working knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in a restaurant knows that alot of far from hygenic things take place there. Why do you think that most chefs, those that own big and fancy restaurants, usually choose to cook and eat at home rather than go out to restaurants? It's not just b/c they think their food is so great and others suck. It's because they can't be sure if their food hadn't hit the floor sometime during it's preparation stage.

    My best friend's brother has worked as a sous chef in a few of the best restaurants in NYC and Philly, and he's told us a ton of things. In fact, we asked him to stop telling us or else we would never eat out again. Most kitchen workers eat their lunch or dinner at the restaurant but they cook it separately from the rest of the food b/c they want to make sure that THEIR food is prepared in a sanitary way. I've personally seen a steak hit the floor, be picked up, brushed off, thrown in the pan, and served a few minutes later to an unsuspecting patron. The thought is that the heat will kill off any bacteria or whatever else gets on it.

    While I certainly understand your concerns about hygiene and think they're valid, just know that what was shown in that video is not too far from things being done in some the most expensive kitchens in the world. They just would never let someone in to videotape the real deal.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    21.12.11 01:53 PM
    @Angela

    I would respect your decision not to read my comments and I won’t force you to do so. I just obeyed your last request “Ask author the questions first”. But like every other business the Gastronomy industry has to follow certain laws how foods are prepared for the good health of the consuming public.

    I regret very much that you failed to see the point I was trying to make. It was not insulting you in any way but your blatant exposure of “what goes on behind the scene aspect” of the video that thousands may have watched by now. It is sad that you took it personal instead of telling Krishna Sagar what I suggested was in the broader and the best interests of all who patronize them.

    You refusal to answer my question will have as much of publicity as your original article you wrote and the video you made with so much enthusiasm. This time it is not a rumor that I was spreading but an observation that many people could see and agree as truth. Sorry for being so focussed in the way look at look at things. Because it's no laughing matter I will leave out the LOL.

    Please bear with me.
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    21.12.11 12:56 PM
    @Rajpriya - :-( I am sorry to say that from now I won't read a single comment from you.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    21.12.11 09:46 AM
    @Angela

    To honor your request that said “ASK authors first the questions before I start spreading rumors” and “Just in case anyone is interested, before I started my lesson with the owner I video’d the real line cook whipping up smaller dosas and masala dosa (I only show up at the very end of the video). See it here”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIenHrkFLUo

    I would like to express an observation that I always feared would happen when I went into restaurants anywhere. How hygienic was that food produced that is placed in front of me in a restaurant?

    Who ever that was, who made the Dosas as shown in the video was continually dipping his fingers into a pot of muddy looking water on his right before he grabbed the next ingredient with his hand or fingers instead of using a spoon to be spread anything on the Dosa.

    It was worse recording it as evidence into YouTube and showing not only the NRI but also the entire world how unhygienic dosas are made.

    “To quote you” So there I was, hot and sweaty at the grill, whipping up masala dosas, placing them onto plates or into to-go boxes, and serving customers”.

    I am sure the guy who made those masala dosas was sweating himself.

    I would have preferred to see him wash his hands under tap water or even better use a spoon when he made my Dosa if I was ever to eat anything at Krishna Sagar after viewing the YouTube.

    I would have advised the man who made the Dosas or his boss to produce food in a more hygienic way as normally all people would expect. The YouTube video is a bad advertisement for Krishna Sagar is my personal opinion or at least to those who care what hey eat.

    Please do not take it personal.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    20.12.11 04:52 AM
    @Neelam- yours’ a great point - a privilege.

    @Keri- It's good to know the owner taught his workers to hold the lil'e dosa in the sweaty palm of their LEFT hand to fill it? Could taste a lil'e bit too salty though? Very, Very Indian. “LOL”.
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    20.12.11 02:26 AM
    @Neelam - yeah, you may be right there. Funny little benefit, isn't it?

    Just in case anyone is interested, before I started my lesson with the owner I video'd the real line cook whipping up smaller dosas and masala dosa (I only show up at the very end of the video). See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIenHrkFLUo
  • Neelam Kamdar Bhamani
    By
    Neelam Kamdar Bhamani
    19.12.11 11:58 PM
    Yummy! see...there are a few perks to being a foreigner. I don't think the owner would give me the time of the day if I showed up at his restaurant offering to help.
    Live it up, girl!!!
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    19.12.11 09:50 PM
    @Keri

    I am really sorry I don’t take suggestions from others. I know my humor differs from the suggested. That’s what makes me unique and everything I do is my way. I am really not a copying cat or a people pleaser.

    My humor is hidden, it is not meant to be visible and it’s not easy to see it my way. Oh! About my posts that come off as sounding. Those are written after my Cognac and Dry Ginger Ale, Sssh. that’s when I am really serious and I play Sydney Carton.

    I am stranger in your country. I may need to know where you live to come for my classes if I did change my mind. Ha! Ha! Ha!

    By the way if you notice my Gravatar that indicates a few LOL’s put together and isn’t that that a very happy face enough?
  • Keri
    By
    Keri
    19.12.11 09:03 PM
    Rajpriya, if I could make a suggestion. Since your humor is not readily recognizable to some of us, perhaps you can give more visual clues of when your joking, such as putting "LOL" (laugh out loud) or a happy face :) at the end of the sentence or paragraph in which you are joking. Then it can be seen that you are being humorous and not judgmental, as some of your posts come off as sounding.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    19.12.11 02:55 PM
    I thought we had those differences behind us. I will distance myself from reading any of your stuff in future. I do not intend to get on top of you by making this an issue.

    If you go back to that topic you are still boiling over please read my Apology if you really missed it.

    Going back to those lies you said I spread, is like George W. Bush looking for WoMD in Iraq. I just read this it had cost 4000 Americans their lives.

    I just want peace with you and no bloodshed.
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    19.12.11 02:24 PM
    @Barnaby and Keri - thanks so much, it really was a fun way to spend a few hours. The owner didn't speak English so my driver (a friend of his) acted as translator as the owner showed me every single ingredient, every grain, every step that goes into it (a bit too much detail but I did ask and he was so proud). I'm just happy it didn't kill any of the mystery :-)

    @Rajpriya - Let me offer a suggestion: ASK authors questions FIRST before you start spreading false rumours (especially over something so innocent as my afternoon as a cook). I DID cook the filling with that utensil and in the pot in standing in front of, from adding oil to the pan and until it was done. The big pot to the right is used to make those donut shaped breads (no idea what they are called), which I DID cook (well, flip over and subsequently remove from the oil) after the owner formed them...I had a great day, have tons of photos and even videos from that day...

    I put up with the lies you wrote about me last time and the false assumptions you made up because it was our first interaction but this is ridiculous.
  • Satish Mutatkar
    By
    Satish Mutatkar
    19.12.11 11:36 AM
    Atta girl, way to go....!
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    19.12.11 11:02 AM
    Well! Well! Now what do I say about my opinion being taken as an offence?
    Am I not free to open my mouth even if it was meant to be harmless humor and not an insult?

    I know there is someone always out there getting on top of a table with no flood.
  • Keri
    By
    Keri
    19.12.11 10:04 AM
    Oh for goodness sakes, why do you all have to make everything so literal? Oh no, the picture is not her ACTUALLY making a dosa, but so what?? It's the article that has the substance,not the picture. It's like complaining that the whipped cream on top of a heavenly piece of cheesecake is not creamy enough. WHO CARES??? Just eat the damn cheesecake and be happy!!!

    While the picture might not show her making a dosa, it does, I believe, show her with the filling on her spoon, a scene she describes quite vividly in the article. I have no doubts that she made masala dosas that day, even if the picture does not show that exact action. Can't we just appreciate the effort rather than critiquing everything? BTW, Angela, thanks for nothing. I now have a serious craving for masala dosa but Dosa Delight is closed now, so I'll have to hold out until tomorrow. Wish me luck, it'll be hard! :)
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    19.12.11 08:41 AM
    It’s looks more like you are pretending to a make Masala Dosa rather than really make one. You’re holding a long spoon like object with a very small quantity of may be Masala in front of a WOK which is not, what normally is used to make a Dosa. The large one on your right is empty and that too does not look like a utensil usually used to make Dosas and what more the Dosa is no where to be seen.

    Anyway, I admit you add color and look cute in that dingy kitchen and would have looked even cuter if you had borrowed the Vetti uniform for that photo shoot and oh! I forgot – At least a Dosa would have added Masala to the picture & made it taste better.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    19.12.11 07:47 AM
    Angela.

    You. Have. Lived. My. Dream.

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