It was time for Sunday breakfast, and I sprinkled a few water droplets onto a hot griddle to check if they would sizzle. Perfect. Quickly, I poured a ladleful of pale batter onto the pan’s centre, gently spiralling it outwards. Then, raising the heat, I added a generous spoonful of ghee (clarified butter) around the newly formed disc, which soon began to rise slightly and curl at the edges. Now it was time to flip it and cook the other side.
Although the glistening, golden-brown circle might have looked like a French crepe or a Russian blini, it was neither. It was a dosai, a thin South Indian pancake made from a fermented batter of soaked rice and black gram, a 2,000-year-old dish beloved by millions of Indians that can now be found in almost every part of the planet, from Parry’s Corner in Chennai to Paris’ La Chapelle neighbourhood (also known as “Tamil Town” or “Little Jaffna”).
With no time for admiration, I carefully slid a spatula under the hot pancake and plated it alongside a small heap of idli podi, a spicy lentil-based powder. After making a slight crater in the heap, I filled it with gingelly (sesame) oil and mixed them together. Finally, I tore a piece off the crispy dosai, dabbed it in the mixture and popped it into my mouth, enjoying a pleasant burst of tart and spicy flavours followed by an earthy aftertaste of sesame.
This is how millions of South Indians eat this wholesome and satisfying vegetarian dish every morning, sometimes opting for a side of chutney and sambhar (a tangy lentil-based broth) over the idli podi. However, over time, the dosai – also known as thosai, dose or attlu, depending on the Indian region, and as the anglicised “dosa” around the world – has evolved to include different ingredients and fillings such as spicy potatoes as in the globally ubiquitous masala dosa.