Meet the dosa hunters of Bangalore!
Three friends in Bangalore have embarked on an unusual quest for the best dosa in the city. Indulekha Aravind of Business Standard joins them in their search.
Maybe it's the prospect of an evening filled with hot dosas fresh off the griddle, or perhaps they are just generally ebullient, but the trio of Pavandeep Singh, Mario Jerome and George Seemon, better known as the creators of Love, Sex aur Dosa (LSD), seem to have a spring in their step when I meet them on Wednesday night at our designated rendezvous.
The three gentlemen have taken upon themselves the arguably arduous but definitely yummy task of tracking down the best dosa joint in Bangalore, a city that in Seemon's estimation would easily have 500 such places. The mission was conceived, appropriately, after a hearty breakfast of dosa, when one of the three friends posed the crucial question: " Machaan (Tamil slang, rough equivalent would be yaar), where do we get the best dosa in town?"
That was five months ago. Since then, they have covered 20 dosa joints in different neighbourhoods in the city, faithfully chronicling their quest on www.lovesexaurdosa.tumblr.com, and their Facebook page, which got 100 "likes" in less than 24 hours. I'm joining them on a night they have decided to find out the dosa-worthiness of a street near Sajjan Rao Circle in VV Puram lined with tiny eateries, known colloquially as Thindi Beedi, or food street.
We begin at a hole-in-the-wall eatery at the VB Bakery end of the street, the name of which is obliterated. Most of those gathered around seem to be busy wolfing down rice and curry but we go ahead and order a kaali dosa, and a plate of idli. Kaali dosa is a Karnataka specialty, softer and smaller than the regular dosa. Ours comes on a banana leaf, served with two different chutneys. No sambar is served, which I am informed is usually the case in places like these. The dosa turns out to be crisper and bigger than a typical kaali dosa, which works well for me. But how do the three decide what is a good dosa, especially since the dosa in Karnataka (slightly thicker, softer at the centre, a tad sweeter) is not the same as the ones in Tamil Nadu? "Each of us has his preferences -- Pavandeep is a fan of the typical Karnataka dosa, I favour the crisper, Tamil Nadu style and Mario will eat anything that looks like a dosa," guffaws Seemon, an architect.
After each expedition, the three rate their experience individually on taste, ambience and price. "None of us can claim to be experts but we are all foodies and we know what tastes good. That's what our reviews show," says Jerome, who works in a production house. Singh works in an automobile company and, apart from food, photography is what unites the three.
The dosa we are currently munching on meets with the approval of all three, but the real winner turns out to be the idlis, or what they refer to as "collateral damage" -- something they eat that's not the main course. Each of the two soft, large idlis has a liberal swirl of ghee on top (highly recommended, calories be damned) and is guaranteed to melt in your mouth. Again, there are two chutneys to dip into, one of which is a killer garlic and tomato chutney. The cheerful proprietor, who says his eatery is called Raja's Tiffin Centre (Seemon suspects he made up the name for our benefit), is commended for his offering and after paying Rs 50 for our meal, we saunter ahead. En route, Jerome and I pick up a plate of piping hot jalebis which I relish but the rest condemn as "too sweet", even as I try to explain that there is no such thing as a jalebi that's too sweet.
A short walk down and across the road is "Ramu Tiffan Centre" with "only ghee and butter", where we order a masala dosa. While the gent behind the large counter outside spreads the batter to make a wide, sizzling circle on the tava, I quiz the three about what their hunt has been like so far. "We've found that what people rave about and rate as THE best dosa joint need not always live up to that tag," says Singh, citing the example of Janata, which came highly recommended but where the dosas, when they arrived, turned out to be too oily. They choose places they have heard of and those that others recommend on their Facebook and tumblr pages, and have so far covered many of the popular dosa places in the city, including the legendary Vidyarthi Bhavan (where people queue up outside), popular city chain Adiga's and old favourite Woody's. The best dosa so far? "Sannath's on Jewellers Street" -- the verdict is unanimous. Our own masala dosa is now ready and we dig in. Despite the liberal dabs of gunpowder we had seen being smeared, the dosa is rather tasteless, especially the potato filling. Oh well -- on to the next pit stop.
By now, George has been asking locals and shopkeepers about their recommendation for the best dosa on the street and the general consensus indicates that we should head to a joint at the end of the road. We make one more stop on the way, at Sree Vasavi Dosa Camp, where we try out the avarekalu dosa. The thick dosa is more like an uthappam, with a liberal sprinkling of avarekalu, a winter bean, and is not bad. Some of the more bizarre dosa toppings LSD has encountered, they tell me, are noodles and chocolate at Sri Balaji Dosa Corner in Koramangala, which serves a mind-boggling 99 varieties. While Jerome finishes the avarekalu dosa, the others join the queue to buy idlis and a dosa that I hope will be the grand finale to the evening. The crowd milling outside the place that's just slightly larger than "hole in the wall" looks promising but it also means we have to wait a while. But belying the hordes gathered, both the dosa and idlis turn out to be no better than average — Raja's fare beats this hollow. "See, this is what we mean. What people recommend need not always turn out to be the best," says Singh.
Before we wrap up, another friend of LSD joins us and suggest we head to Dosa Mane (or dosa house), also in VV Puram. So we amble forward, to the tube-lit, multi-storey "food hall" that is Dosa Mane -- a sea change from the places we had eaten at that evening. Since everyone is stuffed to the gills, we order one plain dosa between the five of us, and it arrives soon enough, as a cone. The dosa meets with Singh's approval as it fits into the mould of the Karnataka dosa, with its slightly thick but crispy consistency. It's not close to the best dosa they have had but LSD does not decry it either. At Rs 45, it's our most expensive dosa of the evening but that's the price you have to pay for eating in an "AC hall".
Out of all the sampling we have done, my vote goes to the fare at Raja's, but the entire experience of strolling down Thindi Beedi is well worth savouring, especially considering no meal will set you back by more than Rs 50. LSD will be uploading their individual verdicts on their page but, meanwhile, they already have their next target in the crosshairs: the venerable MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room) near Lalbagh.
The perfect dosa, according to LSD:
Pavandeep: Crisp, not too thick, not too thin
George: Dosas that are crisp with that white tint, like the ones in Tamil Nadu
Mario: If the accompaniments are really good, I rate the dosa higher
The best dosa so far: Sannath's on Jewellers Street.
Close second: CTR in Malleswharam.
If you're twiddling your thumbs at Bangalore's international airport, try out the Mysore cheese dosa at the Time Out Bar.
Image: (L-R) George Seemon, Pavandeep Singh and Mario Jerome