Has Mumbai Finally Got A Taste Of Authentic South Indian Dosa?
Image Credit: PixaHive

If you grew up eating papery-thin, conical dosas in Mumbai – the kind which crumbled into bits the moment you tried to break a piece, the idea of what real dosas are like could be a jaded concept. These dosas, an integral feature to Udupi-style restaurants with their under-seasoned (and sometimes not even tempered) chutneys, runny-sweet sambar was a far cry from what homemade dosas and chutneys tasted like for anyone who has had a chance to sample the real deal. On the contrary, the standard sambar made in a South Indian home has notes of savoury and sweet in good balance, with texture coming from freshly ground spice blends as well as the vegetables.

The dosas – depending on where you ate them, could be spongy soft or have a combination of crisp and soft bites. When first-time restaurateurs – Akhil Iyer and Shriya Narayan brought the benne dosa to Mumbai almost three weeks ago, the equilibrium of translucent dosa discs shook slightly. Opening up to fanfare from the get-go, the restaurant promised to deliver what it said it would – benne dosas, filter coffee and adjacent entities. When we had a chance to drop by the small café located in a Bandra by-lane, the excitement was palpable as the line of people spilled over to the pavement.

Upon finally making an entry and placing an order for their benne dosa with podi, thatte idli and iced filter coffee, a quick glance around the café displayed how ‘hungry’ the city’s South Indian food fiends really were for a ‘damn good dosa’! As you hear the quiet sizzle of the cast iron plate when batter is poured onto it, one would hope for only the best things. As the food arrives, an impatient attack on the podi dosa with the dollop of butter melting over it was nothing short of rewarding. The crusty outer shell – which is a welcome juxtaposition to the fluffy interior dusted generously with podi – gleaned in its perfect brown glory.

A quick swipe of the coconut chutney instantly puts the hype to rest – it probably needs a tad bit of salt. The tomato-chilli chutney swooped in to save the day in order to polish off the dosa while the thatte idli awaited its turn. While what should essentially be a fluffy, cloud-like idli was slightly undercooked – giving it a pasty mouthfeel which is no comparison to the joy of eating one otherwise. The podi, although does a lot for texture, does little to really get the taste going. To put it simply, the dosa was a hit, the chutney a miss and the idli, avoidable if you can make a mean batch at home.

Image Credits: Wikipedia

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Cut to the Tardeo-based Café Srinivasa, started by Naman Jain – draws from the same seed of an idea as its benne dosa counterpart, which also opened its doors to diners around the same time. With almost no waiting time and not as many people visiting to gain social media cred, we ordered the same thing as we did at Benne to even the field. What was interesting to note when it came to the commonalities both restaurants shared was the fact that they were both an ode to darshinis – or South India’s quick service, all-vegetarian restaurants. Although we missed sipping on the iced version of filter coffee, the warm beverage at Srinivasa was equally memorable.

Our verdict? A benne dosa that was infinitely better as a cumulative eating experience – yummy chutneys, fragrant and flavoursome podi that the restaurant makes from scratch and infinitely less rushed. What got us thinking after the meal was if the dosa had finally made its mark on Mumbai; not that the moreish discs that went limp when they turned cold couldn’t be classified as so. However, like most other foods that get bastardised with time, the dosa morphed into what was inexpensive and also fast-producing. To illustrate this further, the making of a standard batter takes more than 12 hours – with grinding and fermentation being time-consuming processes.

Not to mention the fact that almost every other world cuisine nestled within its folds – spring dosa, schezwan dosa, pizza dosa, chocolate dosa, you name it. That said, as we become receptive to eating what’s closest to the most authentic version of a dosa, or any other preparation, avenues like Benne and Café Srinivasa pave the way for an opportunity that allows people to trace the roots of something they feel like they’ve been familiar with forever. Ask most people and they would agree that a dosa is not something they are averse to but it’s not always possible to find a heady mix of texture and taste even in the most expensive of those pseudo-dosas.

Although both eateries are definitely an upgrade from what the city’s dosa eaters are typically used to, it’s probably hard to tell the difference between the nuances if one hasn’t had a chance to really sample authentic South Indian food. As the city gains two brand new spots for your fill of South Indian breakfasts, it’d be interesting to see how the landscape of dosas really evolve to accommodate refined variations – which are in fact as close in composition to a well-made dosa as possible. The dosa has arrived indeed!