There’s very little that can rile the otherwise sanguine Bengalurians. But mention the word dosa and all bets are off.
By ANITA RAO KASHI
If you thought traffic is an issue of contention with Bengalurians, then think again. Traffic is but a minor obstacle to be overcome en route to something much more fundamental. What could be more fundamental, you ask? That would be eating a dosae (also pronounced dosa by many). You can take the Bengalurian out of Bengaluru, and he or she will come charging right back to their favourite dosae (rhymes with blasé) place. In fact, you can even discern a Bengalurian’s nativity by their preference—CTR or Vidyarthi Bhavan. Hint: Fans of the former are likely to reside towards north Bengaluru, the latter towards
Loyalty to the dish can even test friendships: Toss an innocuous question such as ‘where do you get the best dosa in Bengaluru’ amidst a group of friends, and watch years-old camaraderie dissolve into
a bar-room brawl. “Dosae is the religion of Bengaluru,” says film producer Adarsh NC. “There’s always going to be a war around it.” Everyone has a strong opinion about what makes a good dosae, and no one is ready to compromise. Add to this the fact that some of Bengaluru’s dosae brands are pedigreed.
CTR (Central Tiffin Room), located in a no-frills building in Malleswaram, is over 100 years old and has changed hands a few times. In its current avatar, it has been around since 1952 and even changed its name to Shri Sagar, but no one ever calls it that. Its version of the popular dish is a beautiful balance of snappy-crisp and spongy-soft, golden-brown dosae drenched in butter, wrapped around spicy potatoonion palya (the trademark brightyellow concoction that puts the term ‘masala’ in the dosa), served with two kinds of chutneys (coconut and mint). “I need my CTR dosae fix regularly. Even though I eat other kinds, I start craving it intensely if I go without it for a few weeks,” says Harini Madhu, a north Bengaluru software professional. Vidyarthi Bhavan precedes the current CTR by nearly a decade and is located in an equally no-frills setting in the busy, leafy-laned Gandhi Bazaar area in south Bengaluru. It has long been the favourite haunt of Kannada littérateurs; the photographs of some of its illustrious patrons gaze benignly at people tucking into the fare. As its name indicates, it came up as a quick food stop for students. Its dosae veers towards a soft texture, folded in half over the potato mix, and served flat on a plate with chutney ladled on the side. “I cannot stand any other dosae; I eat here so frequently that I know exactly when to go to beat the queues,” says Aruna G Kumar, a south Bengalurian.
No matter where you choose to go, be prepared to wait, especially during weekends. However, queuing for dosae is not something new to the Bengalurian. Take the other Bengaluru institution MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) near Lalbagh. It takes the dosae to another plane and brooks no argument about it, preferring to let its triangular, deep golden-brown dish speak for itself. What makes the MTR dosae different? Red rice in the batter, for one. And oodles of pure ghee.
Why is Bengaluru such a sizzling hot dosa battleground? Because there are far too many varieties jostling for space on the griddle. Every street corner eatery has its own version, and every neighbourhood has its own local favourite: Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan in the heart of the city, Mahalakshmi Tiffin Room in Basavanagudi, Siddappa Hotel in Sampangiramanagar, Taaza Thindi in Jayanagar, and Umesh Dosa Point in Seshadripuram are just a tiny fraction of the well-known
ones. Curiously, while the dosa has earned an enviable reputation as
a vegetarian dish, there are eateries which serve it with chicken and mutton fillings, or meat curries on the side.
And then there are the Johnny-come-lately versions that are available in eateries, food carts, and little outlets that have purists turning up their noses in disdain—a Schezwan dosa, paneer dosa, noodle dosa, pav bhaji dosa, and even a pizza dosa! Some outlets even claim to dish out 99 varieties, prompting a smart alec to comment that the imagination had run out before hitting a century. The latest to join the menu are chocolate and ice-cream dosas. “It’s blasphemy really,” says Adarsh. “Innovation and catering to the younger generation is all fine but somehow these versions don’t feel like the real thing”. Needless to say, the debate rages on and is unlikely to die out anytime soon. For the Bengalurian, dosae is not just a dish. It’s something much more than that.