50,000 dosas in Dubai and counting: Meet a super-fan of the famous South Indian snack

An Anglo-Indian on the trail of the famous South Indian snack on what tickles his palate

By Leslie Wilson Jr.; Visuals by Shihab

Published: Mon 6 Jun 2022, 3:15 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Jun 2022, 7:58 PM

A sizzling dosa is flipped over the large tava (traditional Indian cooking plate) by a chef at a busy South Indian restaurant in Dubai. Foodies are trooping in as I wait patiently for my staple. There’s an air of expectation as the rich aroma of spices fills the air.

I wait and watch as the dish crackles to life and turns mild brown, ready to be served. The chef casts a glance and smiles at me through the glass partition. I know him well after years of tasting his speciality. He's the best at what he does. This eatery is close to my heart. It feels like home and is comforting on a searing day in Dubai.

The crispy delight is now ready to be served, just the way I like it — well done but not overcooked.

I can't count how many I have eaten during my three decades in Dubai, but the figure is easily over 50,000. No kidding!

My taste for this Indian snack began during my early years in Bangalore, a vibrant, demographically diverse city in South India. I am Anglo-Indian, but a pure vegetarian. Most people of mixed-race ancestry like me love their meat chops and sausages. I stand out with my dosa fixation. If they salivate on the French crepe, I simply eat dosa, the original Indian crepe.

In my youth, I would save pocket money to spend on this traditional South Indian dish. I tried to hide my vegetarian leanings from my folks. My mum always thought that it was a passing phase. She was wrong. I was born to be a vegan, even before veganism became vogue.

For those of you who may not know this, the dosa is a pancake or crepe and is one of India’s favourite snacks. It is essentially made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils and is served with a mildly-spicy chutney (dip) and sambar, another South Indian concoction.

The dosa is believed to have originated in the 1st century AD in the temple city of Udupi in Karnataka, India. Udupi cuisine has contributed significantly to the country’s gastronomic heritage, in which the dosa has been a major player.

You can find dosas in other states in India, including Tamil Nadu, where they are hugely popular. For me, however, it is the Udupi dosa that is the gold standard.

Dosa tripping in Dubai

When I moved to Dubai in the early nineties, I was surprised to discover that many restaurants served dosas that were similar to the Udupi classic.

In the next 30 years, I must have visited almost every one of them. The legendary MTR dosa is right at the top of the list, though Shri Krishna Bhavan, Bengre Kamat, Venus, and Hari Prasad give it a run for its money.

Personally, MTR’s dosas are the closest to perfection. From the way they look to the texture, taste, and potato palya (stuffing), to the way it digests… these guys hit the ball out of the park with this marvel - as evidenced by how packed the place can get.

Shri Krishna Bhavan in Karama serves a mouth-watering Davangere Benne (butter) dosa and an open dosa, which is a speciality of the house. Both are yummy and easy on the tummy.

Being a die-hard Udupi dosa lover, I’m not much of a fan of varieties from Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad, and Bombay. But I have to admit that the Sangeeta chain serves several kinds of very appetising dosas.

Talking up their dosas

Kumar, who is the master dosa-maker at MTR, says he is proud to be associated with a brand that has a 100-year history.

“I am from Mandya district in Karnataka, and ever since I joined MTR over 10 years ago, I have become famous in my village,” he says. “Our main ingredient is unpolished red rice, which is a healthier option, and gives the MTR dosa its unique taste.”

Gurmeet Singh, restaurant manager at MTR Dubai says he first fell in love with the dosa his grandma used to make.

"Every time she travelled from Punjab to visit our house in Andhra, she would bring with her fresh, new, green wheat to make us cheela (water) dosas. They were delicious — like all grandmothers' cooking is. This is how I got attached to the dosa and also ended up working for a dosa chain.”

Chandrashekar, managing director of Shri Krishna Bhavan, says his Davangere Benne dosa is unique, flavoursome and authentically Udupi.

Chefs Madhukar Shetty, Rajesh, and Yogesh, who have been trained in Bangalore, concur and point out that the aloo masala (potato) that accompanies their dosa is to die for.

Chef and dosa specialist Kandaswamy from Sangeetha’s branch in Karama, says: “Our passion is to make a unique and delicious dosa every day to give every customer a reason to return to our restaurant.”

Dosa aficionados I bump into say they can eat the snack three times a day. For Farida Sait Munaf from Bangalore, it's an addiction. She can eat dosas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here are a few more 'dosa faithfuls', who say they can consume every last scrumptious morsel of their meal.

Weekends are particularly crowded at these restaurants. Often, queues spill onto the streets but that does not deter dosa-lovers from waiting to bite into the crispy goodness.

It's the weekend already and I am heading out to add to my tally of dosas. When was the last time I had my fill of the dish? Last night, my wife reminds me. Who cares, I reply. The best time for dosa is anytime.

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