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Spiced With Surprise

A ‘masala dosa brioche’ is making tempers boil. But culinary invention is eternal

Written by Kalyan Karmakar |
January 23, 2017 2:38:43 am
masala dosa brioche, food blogging, south indian cuisine, food reviews masala dosa, crispy crepe stuffed spiced potatoes, south indian food

I’ve been following the online outrage about the recently introduced “masala dosa brioche” with great interest. “How can you fool around with our dosa?” has been the outraged refrain. I decided to check out the cause of the angst myself but I must state my lack of bias. I’m a Bengali; I don’t have the passionate attachment to dosas that a south Indian might have. This was no “ilish patoori macaron” after all; that would sound suspicious to the Bengali in me, though I’m a pacifist on food. I didn’t even mind when an outlet sent me a “kosha mangsho bao”, “kosha mangsho” being a traditional Bengal mutton curry, usually served with rice. My brother and I grew up eating mangsho (meat) and pauruti (bread), though, as my mom was a working mom and didn’t have the energy to make rotis after a long day. So, mangsho, tucked in a pav, was not an alien taste for me.

Nor was the masala dosa brioche, it turned out. It consisted of a mildly spiced, turmeric-hued potato mash stuffed with peas, fried and tucked into a soft bun, with a slightly spicy mayo. It reminded me of the sandwiches my granny made in Kolkata in the 1980s, white bread with spiced mashed potato, toasted in a handheld toaster. She’d picked up the recipe from non-Bengali friends in Delhi. In Mumbai, I learnt these were called “masala toast sandwich” in the roadside stalls across the city. I prefer the “veg toast sandwich”, which uses boiled potatoes with veggies, instead of the masala potato mash.

I also prefer saada (plain) dosa to masala dosa. To me, dosas are light meals which I choose over, say, Eggs Benedict in the morning in hotels or a ham and cheese sandwich as an evening snack. Adding potatoes to a dosa defeats my purpose. I’ve had masala dosas all over though, from Chennai to Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kolkata, even in London’s Borough Market (where it was served with Pindi chhole, not sambhar and chutney). As dosa fillings go, I felt the “brioche” played safe. It wasn’t too spicy. I missed the bite of chillies, the curry leaves, whole mustard seeds and urad daal, usually the base tadka for the masala, adding texture and life. As a dish though, the “masala dosa brioche” was mild.

As I left the outlet, I wondered if many of those so grievously angry with the “masala dosa brioche” had actually tasted it. I wryly thought it was good social media wasn’t around when vada pavs were introduced in Mumbai —apparently, pavs made in Irani, Muslim and Goan bakeries were not accepted in Hindu Maharashtrian households back then. Which is why batata vadas, even missal, wasn’t eaten in Maharashtrian houses with pav till young men, looking to earn an honest living, made it a thing. But there was no social media to outrage about it. Today, vada pav has become the culinary pneumonic of Mumbai. Social media wasn’t around in 1997 either when my Tamilian fellow market research trainees from Chennai tried a “Chinese cheese masala dosa” in Dadar — and loved it so much, they called for it every evening.

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Food blogging had emerged by the time celebrated chef Manish Mehrotra introduced the bacon kulcha, shown much love on social media. Instagram was around when Floyd Cardoz’s Bombay restaurant introduced “Eggs Kejriwal”. This version looked a lot prettier than the rustic Kejriwals, no pun intended, of the Willingdon Club where the dish was reportedly invented. Snapchat was right there when bacon raj kachoris were served at a glamorous restaurant launch in Mumbai; the launch trended. I liked the kachoris but I didn’t compare them with, say, the much-loved pyaaz kachori of Jaipur. They are two different dishes.

There’s a simple point I am making — one seems to choose one’s cuisine-outrage rather selectively on social media. Chains are a popular target compared to homegrown brands and chef-driven creations; this may be because unlike the latter, chains are faceless. However, invention is eternal. When I was a kid, my granny made pantuas (the Bengali version of gulab jamuns). I refused to eat them. I had never come across this dish. I was three years old and had strong views on “acceptable food”.

“But how will you know whether you like it till you try it?” my aunt said. I listened and did try one. I finished the entire vessel and my didu had to make me many more. There was a moral in that morsel.

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The writer is a food blogger and has authored ‘The Travelling Belly: Eating Through India’s By-lanes’

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First published on: 23-01-2017 at 02:38:43 am
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