Tuesday, March 31, 2009

South Indian

Most times you ask someone from North India what cuisine they enjoy eating out, and you'll get an instant reply, "South Indian". Of course, it's another matter that for most North Indians, South Indian means idli dosa. I was mighty pained when my husband's uncle, meeting me for the first time after we had gotten married, promptly said in a would-be-south-Indian accent, "tum Idli-vada khaata?" ( You eat idli-vada?). Any kind of stereotyping gets my goat. Not that I don't enjoy idlis and dosas as much as anyone originating south of the Vindhyas, of course.

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.

This is my entry for MLLA – 9, hosted by Laurie.


Vani said...

Oh, I hear you! And even the word "Madrasis" irritate me no end! My woes at finding a restaurant that serves decent dosas has been epic. Often what passes for dosa are paper thin, white things that don't taste good, look good and leaves you extremely dissatisfied, esp thinking of the money you paid fot it! But I now I've discovered not one, but two restaurants that serve good dosas :)
Lovely entry for the MLLA event! Your stuffed mushroom looks great too!

bird's eye view said...

Vani - :) at the objection to madraasis. Really gets my goat. Good that you've discovered good dosa places - my best alternative is my mom's place :) luckily she lives 3 houses away.

Thanks, and do try out the stuffed mushrooms - v easy but looks difficult which is always great for a party!

How do we know said...

aaah yes.. i m from Hyderabad and the "South Indian" food in Gurgaon was so yummy that i promptly called up my friends and learnt the recipes. Now i make all my South indian at home.

Sonia said...

Very nice post! And I didnt know about the gunpowder until a couple of years ago when my cousins Mom asked me if I would carry some gunpowder with me for her - I was so startled! Given that I was travelling to the US and the cousin was newly married (thoughts of Is she not happy, why does she need gunpowder blah blah)(overactive imagination on overdrive)...so long story short, thats how I got introduced to gunpowder. Thanks for the recipe :)
Also I wanted to tell you, I had been reading your blogs from along time and you inspired me to start my own blog! It has one lame post right now but hopefully some day, I will be able to organise my thoughts more creatively..Thanks!

bird's eye view said...

How do we know: you said it!

Sinoa - Thanks so much for your comment - lovely way to start the day

bird's eye view said...

Sonia: look forward to reading your blog

Sonia said...

Aww thats so sweet of you. Thank you!

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