Corrupted Dosa

Recently read a post ‘Online delivery of Masala Dosas is a food ‘hate-crime’. North India must apologise. Its indeed a hate crime!!!  Even the paper thin Dosa is a hate crime the North Indians must tender an apology for!!!

A Dosa is a thin pancake like a crepe originating from South India, made from a fermented batter of lentils and rice.

The paper-thin Dosa is the corrupted form of Dosa.  In my childhood Amma made Dosa on a ten-inch dia stone girdle.  It was thick – the least it was five times thicker lighter and spongier than its paper-thin cousin. These Dosas were characterised by the holes left by the steam evaporating on cooking from the batter.

I joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) in 1971 at the age of nine where Dosa was served twice a week – Sunday breakfast and Thursday diner.  The Sunday Dosa was with Sambar and Chutney, but the Thursday Dinner was the best – rarest of rarest combination – Dosa with Chicken Masala Curry – one of the best combinations I have had in my life.  Here too it was the thick and fluffy Dosa which combined well with the gravy.

My introduction to the paper-thin Dosa was at the National Defence Academy.  It never tasted anywhere near what I had at home or at school.  It was too crispy for my liking.  I called it the ‘Corrupt version of the poor Dosa.’  Though corrupt, it was lapped up by the North Indians and the South Indians too followed suit and the thick and original Dosa disappeared from most South Indian restaurants and homes.  Some restaurants now serve it as ‘Set Dosa.’

I recall an incident narrated by Veteran Colonel MA Mathai.  After marriage, on settling in their first military abode in 1985, he and his wife Sainu decided to invite all officers of their Regiment for a Dosa Brunch.  In the morning Sainu made Dosas the way her mother made them – thick and stout.  Neither Captain Mathai nor the officers were too happy about it.

After our marriage, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra in 1989.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the following Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  I asked for my most relished combination with Dosa – chicken masala curry.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the thick Dosa made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala curry was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

During our Pan-India tour as part of the Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) in 1990, at Jabalpur Railway Station, our coach was stationed adjacent to the main platform.  After the industrial visits, while I was strolling on the railway platform in the evening, I came across tow young men from Kerala selling Dosas. They narrated their story as to how they came to Jabalpur and established their business. 

The two unemployed high-school graduate lads landed at Jabalpur on the recommendation of a close relative who was employed with the Ordnance Factory.  They searched for a job and joined the restaurant on the railway platform as dishwashers.  Few months into their work, the restaurant owner was impressed with their dedication and asked them “Can you make Dosas?  There is a lot of demand for it.  There are no good Dosa vends in town.” They took the bait. 

The two men travelled to Kerala to return with a heavy grinder, girdles and other utensils needed to make Dosa.  They commenced their Dosa selling in the restaurant and soon the place became a favourite haunt of the powerful, wealthy and influential people of Jabalpur.  The restaurant owner now came out with a new business model for them.  “You sell your Dosas here and all the money is yours?”

Too tempting an offer to reject!!  They again took the bait.  They sold hundreds of Dosas every evening, collected the cash, went back to their home to soak the rice and lentil overnight.  Next morning, they ground the rice and lentil and fermented it till evening.  In the evening, they established their girdle on the platform, in front of the restaurant.  People came in droves to buy Dosas.  Many sent their tiffin carriers for home delivery. 

The biggest question in their minds was “Why did the owner allow us to sell Dosas and take all the money?”

A month into the new venture, they gathered enough courage to ask the question to the restaurant owner.  “Customers who buy Dosas from you buy coffee too.  I sell over a hundred coffee every evening and I make a Rupee on every coffee. “

The restaurant owner did not kill the geese that laid golden eggs for him, he nurtured them!!!!

Bill of Fare

CadetMessAmar

Many of our classmates take time off their busy schedule to attend the Alumni meeting at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, held during the last weekend of June.  Many undertake this pilgrimage to their Alma-Mater purely  to relive their childhood and partake of for the tea and food the school mess served.  The menu was based on a weekly ‘Bill of Fare’ which hung on the notice board of the mess.  The only variation during our entire stay at the school (1971-1979) was the date on the top and the name of the vegetable served, mostly based on seasonal availability.

The senior cadets (Grade 8 to 12) were divided into four houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava- named after the ancient Tamil Kingdoms.  We along with the teaching staff dined on tables which were also placed house-wise.  The waiters were permanent and they served us with love and affection.  They formed an integral part of each house.  They would be the cheer-leaders for most of the inter-house sports competitions and would slip an extra piece of meat or an egg in case we won a competition.

The Cheras were served by Natarajan who was better known as the local banker.  He also reared cows and sold the milk to enhance his income and his banking operations.  The Cholas were served by Vasu who was more of a neatness freak.  He realised the need for education and got his daughters through graduation who are well settled now.  The Pandyas had Venkatachalam, the most vociferous of all and also the most active.  The Pallavas had Madhavan, who despite his bout with asthma, never allowed his sickness to interfere with his job.

We were served ground pork curry with bread for dinner on the first Friday of every month.  The meat came from the Yorkshire Pigs the school farm reared.  Many cadets on joining the school were reluctant to eat pork due to religious reasons and also because they had never tasted it before.  As the school years went by, many shed their herbivorous status (other than the real hardcore ones) in favour of an omnivorous one.  The very same pork curry, with all its flavours intact, is served to the members of the Alumni and their families during the Alumni meet.  Everyone, including little children of the Alumni look forward to this dinner.

CadetMessAmar22

We were served with tea at 5:30 in the morning, before Physical Training.  During the long recess at 11′ o clock it was again tea with biscuits and in the evening before games it was tea and snacks.  The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated.  We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea – it could be the tea leaves, could be the Amaravathi waters, could be the vessel in which it was brewed, could be the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless.  It remains a mystery to all of us to date, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming cups of this divine tea.

Breakfast for us was mostly continental with bread, butter, jam and eggs on all weekdays.  On Saturdays it was Idli-Sambar-Chutney and on Sundays it was Dosa.

The Bill of Fare began with Monday and it was the day we were served fish curry and rice for lunch and mutton curry with roti for dinner.  The dessert for dinner used to be fruit custard.

Mysore-Pak which owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore, was served on Tuesdays.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.  It was a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour.  The sweet added colour to the drab vegetarian dinner we had on Tuesdays.

We all awaited the fried Tilapia fish served for lunch on Wednesdays.  The fish came from the catch of the day at the Amaravathi Dam, co-located with the school campus. What made it very special? Was it the way it was marinated or crispiness of the fried fish or its unique freshness? Indeed it was the very best of all fried fish – it could any day compete with my mother’s fish fry at home.

When I got married, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the coming Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  My most relished combination with Dosa was chicken masala which was served for Thursdays’ dinner at the school mess.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the Dosa (3 to 5 mm thick) made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

Dosa, a thin pancake, is made from a batter of ground lentils and rice.  Its origin can be traced back to the Tamil Brahmins, who are strict vegetarians.  The batter is fermented overnight and is poured over an oil-coated hot granite griddle like a crepe and turned over to cook both sides.  The modern version of the crispy, paper-thin variety is rather a deviation from its original.  Some restaurants in South India still serve the original thick Dosa and is called Kallu (Stone) Dosa.

Fish cutlet was the specialty for Friday Lunch.  The main ingredient again was the fresh Tilapia from the Amaravathi Dam.  The secret recipe for this cutlet still remains unsolved – even our classmate Vijaya Bhaskaran, Executive Chef at Le Meridian, Bangalore, has failed to replicate it.   Jalebi was the dessert for the dinner, which owes its origin to Arabia and was brought to India by Persian traders.

Saturday was the movie day and hence we were served dinner early.  It was Biryani – either chicken or mutton – but what every cadet looked forward to was the sweet dish.  It was Khaja – a delicious flaky pastry, shaped out of a layered dough and dipped in sugar syrup.

One can very well imagine the effort taken by the mess staff for ensuring that quality and taste of food served to the cadets is of a high standard and they need to be commended for their care and culinary skills. The fact that one of the key attractions for most Alumni to get back to the Alma Mater is the food being served, says it all.

Venkatachalam
Post Script
:  I dedicate this post to Mr Venkatachalam, our waiter of Pandya House, who passed away on  11 August 2016.  He will remain in the hearts of all those who were served by him, with all his love, affection and dedication, in Pandya House.  Our friends from Pandya House will remember him for ever.