The trouble with having dosas at a restaurant up north where I live is that the accompaniments are completely tasteless. The chutney is a bland travesty of the authentic chutney, made only of ground coconut with a tempering. The sambar or huli as we call it in Karnataka is a weird, too-sour concoction with tomatoes and a strange assortment of vegetables as diverse as okra, onions and beans floating in a pale soup. We South Indians have very specific vegetable combinations that can be used in huli. The only thing that's up to par is the actual dosa itself.
Some time ago, I had a major craving for dosa with its traditional accompaniments and since mom was out of action with a hurt leg, decided that I would make it from scratch. I went to great efforts to ensure authenticity, from buying the special paper-dosa type frying pan to making the chutney and gunpowder. The only cheat – I bought MTR's instant dosa mix J. On the other hand, MTR is a revered Bangalore trademark for the best of South Indian cuisine so I guess I didn't stray too far.
The whole ritual of eating dosais for breakfast is an experience. The dosas are made one at a time and served hot, fresh off the pan, with dollops of salty and sour flavourful chutney, spicy sambar and gunpowder. It's a lovely mix of flavours and textures - the crisp dosais, the yielding, liquidey chutney, the spicy huli amd the crunchy gunpowder. It's almost a competition to see who can eat more dosas until everyone is stuffed to bursting point. And then the finale - hot South Indian filter coffee, served in stainless steel glasses, tumblers, as we call them, with a thin layer of froth on top. Dosa is usually described by 5-star hotels as a 'crisp lentil pancake, served with coconut relish and a spicy lentil broth'. On second thought, that's a pretty good description, so here I leave you with a smiley picture of my traditional South Indian breakfast…
PS. The recipe for gunpowder
Gunpowder is also known as molaha pudi, which roughly translated means pepper powder. It's a spicy mix of lentils and dried red chillies, guaranteed to blow the roof of your mouth off. Unless, of course, you know the trade secret: to your portion of gunpowder, add about 1/2 - 1 tbsp sesame seed oil or, failing that, home made ghee, and mix it well together until you get a chutney-like texture. The oil or ghee adds a wonderful aroma that's part of the experience
1 cup chana dal
1 cup urad dal
10-15 dried red chillies
Handful sesame seeds
Roast all the ingredients using 1-2 drops of oil, one by one. When cool, grind to a fine powder and mix, with salt to taste.