At the midway stop on the Delhi-Jaipur highway as we made our way to my nani’s house every summer, in Mumbai’s Shiv Sagar and Delhi’s Sagar Ratna – it was almost as if my parents were on a quest to find the best dosa in Mumbai or Delhi or basically, anywhere we were headed. Literally, anywhere. I’ve had dosa not just in every part of India but in Paris and San Francisco too. Essentially, my parents’ go-to meal when travelling would be dosa and mine wouldn’t. The sambhar was either too masaledaar or too sweet, the coconut chutney too watery, and the paper-like texture and subsequent crumbs too messy.
I never understood people’s fascination with dosa…until I did.
Mumbai has been a city of many firsts for me – the first time I lived away from home, the first time I felt the debilitating panic that comes with the realisation that you’ve left your debit card in the ATM machine, the first time I experienced the regret of having that one last drink that marks the thin line between the memory of having a great night and having said memory wiped clean. Mumbai is also the city that was the backdrop for the first time I understood what it meant to fall irrevocably in love with dosa.
The emotions you feel when you scan through a quintessential Mumbai dosawala’s menu are very similar to what you experience when you first move to the city. In the beginning, it’s too much to take in, overwhelming, and even daunting. But once you’ve gotten past the initial apprehension, the excitement kicks in. The sheer diversity, and the gazillion opportunities to explore get the adrenal pumping. The way so many distinct elements come together to paint the most vibrant community you’ve ever come across begins to breathe in a sense of belonging. The more time you spend browsing, the coming together of schezwan, podi, and pizza sauce on the same menu begins to make as much sense as an aspiring musician, a zoology professor, a dabbawala, and a wide-eyed teenager seated in the same local train compartment. There’s something for everyone, and a taker for everything.
When I look back, dosas also seem to be the one common thread that runs across a lot of my most special memories in the city. The first meal I shared with the then strangers, who I now call my closest friends, was a spring dosa (dosa stuffed with crunchy vegetables and chow mein, seasoned with a concoction of spicy sauces that are dangerously addictive). Dosa spots have usually been the places where I’ve had my most cheesy (in more ways than one) dates. The cheese onion dosa from Manju Dosa in Khar is what helped bring together a group of first jobbers, these first jobbers are now some of my go-to people in the city.
Today, I have an extensive list of dosa spots and orders made to ensure that none of my cravings go unanswered regardless of the Mumbai neighbourhood I am in. In Khar, my go-to is Manju Dosa’s onion and cheese dosa, which never disappoints. In Juhu, it is Dakshinayan’s poond (garlic) dosa – not crisp and made in ghee instead of butter – that is usually followed by a food coma-induced nap. In SoBo it is Bulbulnath Dosa Centre’s gini dosa or the chilli cheese dosa. And the list goes on. Dosawalas to Mumbai are like parks to Delhi neighbourhoods, there is one regardless of where you go, and each of these spots has patrons whose loyalty puts teenage boys’ irrational love for sports teams to shame.
Also, for all those who haven’t visited Mumbai, and think they know all that the dosa-verse has to offer, prepare to be surprised. All I ask of you is to come with an open mind, be prepared to be surprised (in some instances, shocked), and get ready to witness magic, one swift circular manoeuvre of a batter-laden ladle at a time.
‘An Ode To’ is a monthly feature…no, love letter, to a cuisine, dish, drink, ingredient or maker that impacted the writer in big ways and small.