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The Most Ridiculous Item On The Menu

The Most Ridiculous Item On The Menu

April 22, 2011

The scarcely believable monstrosity that is paper roast, and how it nearly killed me.

I assumed they'd made a typographic error. On the menu board above the washbasins in Sree Aryaas Hotel, opposite Varkala railway station, there was something called paper roast. Surely they meant pepper? I chuckled to myself, imagining the edges of a newspaper curling up and catching fire inside an oven, then I carried on eating my masala dosa.

That was over two years ago, when I was new to India and the often curious way in which dishes are named. 'Fish fry' instead of 'fried fish'. 'Egg roast', 'egg curry' and 'egg masala', three different types of egg-in-spicy-gravy that at some restaurants taste exactly the same. The difference was that with these, the name offered a clear idea of what it represented. But paper roast? That could be anything.

I started seeing it more and more on restaurant menus. It became a cat-and-mouse game that I failed to acknowledge, a cosmic attraction between a South Indian dish and a young and impressionable foreigner. The interesting thing was that it was always the most expensive item on the menu, usually around Rs. 60 (by comparison, a masala dosa is anywhere between Rs. 20-30). This made it impossible to ignore.

Finally, this week I went to a restaurant near my office with my friend Ron for moral support and took the plunge. “Paper roast,” I said when the waiter looked at me. The words felt funny coming out of my mouth, like a secret code. They may as well have been. I still had no idea what I was in for.

Ron's masala dosa came, and he finished it before my paper roast arrived. Though his masala dosa looked tasty – as all masala dosas do – this only heightened the suspense. If something takes so long to make, it must be good.

And then it came, my very own paper roast, and it made my mouth drop open in shock. It was a dosa – a pancake made of rice flour – but the biggest, crispiest dosa one could conceive of. It arrived brought by two people and on three trays: two for the metre-long tube of dosa, one for the condiments (sambar and two kinds of chutney). If I'd held it up and stood next to it, all 6'5” of me, it would've been more than half my height. If I unrolled it and pressed it flat, it would have been as big as our table for four. It was, without question, the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen in a restaurant.

Considered thought and debate are no help when confronted with the task of eating paper roast, so I relied on intuition. I first broke it into two halves so it would fit on one tray, where it resembled a pair of outsize shotgun barrels. Ron snapped a quick photo before I tucked in. I looked manic and a little terrified.

'Paper' was not a misnomer. The dosa was wafer-thin, and it had been fried in ghee to crisp perfection. I broke a piece off hesitantly and placed it in my mouth... and it was of course absolutely delicious. The next piece was used to test the sambar. World class. Then the chutneys. Not earth-shattering, but good enough. Put it all together, and I'd found my new culinary obsession.

My pace quickened as I grew accustomed to the required technique, flattening a section a little and then shovelling in the shards created. Very soon, a sharp and poorly chewed piece of dosa lodged in my throat. These things ought to carry a health warning, I thought. 'Contains sharp pieces. Not suitable for children under the age of 8.' They could add 'May cause heart attack on sight' underneath. Paper roast was like the South Indian version of those challenge hamburgers at Texan diners, the ones that take several pounds of beef and are free if you can finish them. (The shard remained in my oesophagus for the remainder of the evening.)

Through the ebb and flow of conversation with Ron, I kept on eating, barely pausing for more than five seconds at a time. Half an hour passed. I still had paper roast left on my tray. It was still just as crispy and delicious, as if to taunt me. I wasn't full yet, so I vowed to finish it and carried on, but I experienced an emotion I've never felt during a meal before: boredom. This thing was so big and took so long to eat that even though I was having it for the first time, I got bored while eating it.

Paper roast, the dosa that goes to 11. Paper roast, the meal of a lifetime, so stupendous you only need to eat it once. Paper roast, the food that defeats you through sheer perseverance. It wasn't me that persevered at carrying on until there was nothing more left; it was the paper roast. When it was finally finished, fully 40 minutes after it was brought out, I said to Ron, “That was fantastic. I'll never eat it again.” 


  • delia
    20.01.12 05:46 PM
    Laughed and had tears running down my cheeks reading your post. Thanks it was real funny. I love to see the expressions of others when I order this dosa and the waiter brings it out especially here in Australia where it is not seen by many.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    17.12.11 01:59 PM
    I have never had that one, though I've seen it! Surely you have to flatten it to eat?
  • So
    15.12.11 01:44 AM
    Hahaha, loved the post !! Thats my fav kind of dosa thou :) I love the paper roast in all shapes and sizes. Have you ever tried the one that comes rolled up like a cone and they stand it on your plate like a circus hat ?? :)
  • Cutting Kahlua
    Cutting Kahlua
    01.06.11 07:38 PM
    How cute! I have seen paper dosa offered at many restaurants, so I never dared to try it. Maybe with a large group of people someday. You are really funny.
  • Rajesh
    24.05.11 02:27 PM
    Am very curious on your first experience eating PUTTU.
  • JJ
    26.04.11 12:29 PM
    :D That was a really good article. :))

    Never even eaten anything like that. Will surely try it next time am in some good place with friends. it's impossible for one person like me to finish it
  • priya
    26.04.11 11:15 AM
    I love paper roast..But i guess you definitely need some company to finish it off. At the same time it is delicious. May be the shard which got stuck in your throat spoiled the fun!
  • Rituparna
    25.04.11 08:58 PM
    I love a paper roast/dosa but yes it does get really boring. The next time ask a friend to share. That way you get to eat the yummy dosa without getting bored. :-)
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    25.04.11 03:48 PM
    Thank you all for liking my post! Fried rice flour inspires me like nothing else.
  • Jaai
    24.04.11 01:27 PM
    I ordered Paper Roast Dosa after reading this. I couldn't finish it (the dosa).
  • Deepa
    23.04.11 05:22 PM
    Dear Morris

    I have laughed my heart out...thats a great tale of a paper roast. I remember my mouth dropping at its sight even tho I am a South Indian and I had ne'er seen such a mammoth of a dosa to appear before me(that was few years back!). I some restaurants they do have a smaller version of it...we do have here in Dubai.

    Have a great weekend!
  • Mary Joice Decosta
    Mary Joice Decosta
    22.04.11 02:09 PM
    Ha ha ha...paper roast or ghee roast is one of my favourites...u need patience tnjoy
  • Angry Ganu
    Angry Ganu
    22.04.11 11:09 AM
    Paper dosa is one of my favorite kinds.

    It's not the dosa that will get you. It's the potato filling that makes it heavy.
  • umesh derebail
    umesh derebail
    22.04.11 10:22 AM
    Lolz, paper dosa is meant for two persons at least i believe. I think it is a novel idea to keep the hungry at bay. Of course for a person who is not used to the concept it would be a shocker of his life.
  • Noel
    22.04.11 03:49 AM
    hey barnaby.. nice one... couldn't stop laughing at this xD

    you have more to discover in mallu land, child ;)

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