The Story of Dosa and its Antiquity

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Lily tells us about Dosas and its antiquity. She says that the recipe of Dosa dates back to 1500 years, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

A walk through Sector 17 shopping plaza in Chandigarh always makes me stop and sniff at the aromas wafting out of the Indian Coffee House. The reason is my memories of time spent idling and gobbling down delicious South Indian food here. A favourite haunt in our childhood, both with friends and family, the star attraction were the paper thin, crisp at the edges, mildly soft near the centre, golden coloured Dosas. Griddle, roasted and warm, vaguely hinting at sourness, a delectable bite of joy, Dosas have an ancient history.

Never for a minute believe anyone, who tries to tell you that they are like pancakes. Though attempts have been made to anglicise the Dosa, it is not a bit like the real deal! Well, for one, pancakes are made with eggs, milk, and flour, with maple syrup or honey. If you think Dosas are like French crepes then you might be getting a tad closer, as they are lighter. Wonderful and sometimes savoury. Béchamel drenched crepes may have turkey, ham or asparagus. I know the whole world loves the caramelised bananas and strawberries or the Nutella it is drenched with but believe me when I say that the humble Dosa is in a different league altogether.

Made with a simple batter,  by grinding uncooked and soaked black lentils (soaked till the skin falls off and rice in a one is to three ratios. This batter is allowed to ferment overnight. This process breaks down the starches, easier to metabolise, besides lending it its characteristic hint of sourness. A piping hot griddle awaits, the lightly thinned, runny batter that can be ladled out in spiraling concentric circles. As soon as its bottom is golden, it is folded deftly and served.

Saltless, sugarless, rich in carbohydrates, has good leguminous proteins and gluten free for those who care. A big thumbs up indeed for a 1,500 years old recipe.

According to T K Acharya in his book, The Story of our Food, Dosa as Dosai was already around in the 1st century AD in ancient Tamil country as per references in Sangam literature. On the other hand, historian P Thankappan Nair, says Dosa originated in the Udupi town of present day Karnataka.

Well, let’s say that according to popular tradition, the origin of Dosa has linked to Udupi most probably because of its association with the chain of Udupi restaurants. 

A factor that definitely differentiates the two is that the original Tamil Dosa was softer and thicker. The crisper, thinner version of Dosa, which Indians all over the country and in foreign lands are familiar with was first made in present day Karnataka. A recipe for Dosa known as Dosaka can be found in Manasollasa, a 12th century Sanskrit encyclopedia compiled by Someshvara III, who ruled from present day Karnataka.

This brings me to telling you all about the other Dosas, which I like too. Well, a Rava Dosa and a set Dosa are close runners for me. The popular ones, of course, are the plain Dosa, made homestyle as it is healthy and light. The Mysore Masala Dosa has potato masala stuffing. The set Dosa is Karnataka style soft sponge Dosa, the Pesarattu or Moong Dal Dosa is made of green gram and is a part of Andhra, Telangana cuisine. The Cheese Dosa is topped with cheese and is street style, the whole wheat or Atta Dosa could be a hasty breakfast meal. Egg Dosa, slightly heavy is a popular Tamilnadu street food, oats, ragi, chana, jowar are other variants.

Served with Sambhar, tomato chutney and coconut chutney Dosas are soul food and can transport one to a blissful state. The exotic names I want to share with you are the Mangalorean Neer Dosa, Kanchipuram Masala Dosa, Vellai Dosa, Muttai, Sabudana, Jawarisi Dosa, carrot podi, tomato, spinach, and coriander.

Mumbai special Schezwan Dosa, which has a Chowmein noodle filling is fusion food with a bang!

The longest Dosa measures 16.68 meters – 54ft 8.69inches prepared by Hotel Daspalla, at the Forum Sujana Mall, in Hyderabad, and is a Guinness Record. I have often seen families order these special gigantic creations to eat from different ends! Probably an act that helps you bond but not my cup of tea please! Give me my own Dosa, with some coconut chutney or a tiny bowl of fragrant sambhar and I will not look up till it’s devoured!

 Until next week! Happy munching dear ones.

©Lily Swarn

Photos from the internet.

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Lily Swarn won the Reuel International Prize for Poetry 2016, Global Poet of Peace and Universal Love, Global Icon of Peace from Nigeria, Virtuoso Award and Woman of Substance. A postgraduate in English from Panjab University, she taught at Sacred Heart College, Dalhousie. A gold medallist for Best All-round Student from GCG Chandigarh, she has University Colours for Dramatics. Widely published and interviewed, she authored, A Trellis of Ecstasy and Lilies of the Valley.