Serious Eats: New York
The Vegetarian Option: Dosa Garden
When it comes to dining in the five boroughs, Staten Island often gets left off of the radar. People are willing to make the trip out to Flushing or Sunset Park, but rarely across the water. I'm sure part of it is the trip itself; to get to Dosa Garden I had to take the train to the ferry, then another train, and then I had to walk (uphill) for almost a mile. Yet the stretch of Victory Boulevard between the Tompkinsville stop of the Staten Island Railroad and the restaurant was positively flush with sights that would make even the most jaded New York foodie sit up and take notice: a roti shop, a Nigerian grocery, and multiple Sri Lankan restaurants.
The menu is broken down into several sections, including many familiar Indian dishes. I went straight for the "Sri Lankan Specials" part of the menu; only six items long, but four of them are vegetarian. I ordered so much food that the manager came back and asked if I was sure I wanted all of it, and then my server asked me which dish I wanted first. I told her to bring whatever was ready first, which turned out to be idiyappam ($5 for 10), also called string hoppers. The noodles are made of rice flour with water and a pinch of salt, and steamed until soft in their distinctive circular shape, almost like a pancake made out of noodles. They were served on a platter with a selection of condiments—one made with dried coconut flakes, one sour and cold like sour cream but made with coconut milk, one a chilli sauce—and a bowl of thin coconut milk soup. I couldn't stop eating these warm little hoppers, topped with a bit of each condiment and folded over like a taco, even though I knew I had more food coming.
Next up was the pittu ($5.50 for 3), served on the same kind of platter as the hoppers but completely different in taste and texture. Pittu are cylinders are made of a mix of steamed rice flour, grated coconut, and salt, and despite the cultural divide the dry, dense texture reminded me of kasha, the buckwheat groats popular in Eastern European cuisine. The condiments here were necessary to give flavor and moisture to the dish, and the pittu served as a canvas to make the flavors come alive in my mouth.
At the top of the page you see egg kothu roti ($7.50), the most familiar-tasting dish of the day. Whole wheat roti (a flat bread) is chopped up and stir-fried with egg and chilies. This dish featured a perfect combination of salty and spicy, and when topped with the tomato-based chili sauce it added sour and sweet.
Staten Island is home to a large community of Sri Lankan immigrants, and when people come to this country they bring their food with them. Just as Staten Island has been marginalized by the other boroughs, Sri Lankan cooking often plays second fiddle to South Indian food. The highest compliment I can pay to Dosa Garden is that it is worth the trip out to Staten Island—the food is delicious and comforting in the way that even an unfamiliar cuisine can be.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Brooklyn-based Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.