I don't remember where I had my first dosa, but from the first bite I was hooked. And I haven't been able to get them out of my head since. I blame it on the comical size (they almost always overhang the large plates they're served on), the fantastic textural interplay between crisp-chewy crepe and soft filling, and the tangy, nutty, buttery flavor of the batter. Add in some highly flavored chutneys and sambars for dipping and you have one of the finest South Asian contributions to world cuisine.
Dosas are made from a batter of soaked rice and urud dal (lentils, basically) that's left to ferment overnight to develop a tangy flavor. The batter is spread paper thin over an enormous griddle and cooked into a crepe with a gorgeous lacquered crust. You can get dosas plain, but they usually come filled with spiced, mashed potatoes, cheese, vegetables, or flavorful pastes of herbs and the like. And you'll almost always (at least in New York) find them served with two dipping sauces: a thin, tangy soup called sambar and a mustard seed-spiked coconut chutney.
I've never had a bad dosa, but the quality varies in New York quite a bit. And after you've tried a dozen or so masala dosas (the standard dosa filled with spiced potatoes), they all start to taste pretty similar. So this post is all about the standout dosa variations you can't afford to miss in New York City—the dosas so fascinating, flavorful, and well-constructed that you just can't stop eating them.
Here's what you should look for in a great dosa:
- A thin, crisp crepe that has a bit of chew on the interior and an almost glassy crust on the exterior.
- A balance between tangy, fermented flavors and sweet, caramelized, nutty notes.
- Moderate oil: the dosa batter is fat-free and shouldn't be cooked with so much oil that your hands are covered in an oil slick.
- A flavorful filling that can stand up to the dosa and offer some soft textural contrast.
- Seasoned, balanced sauces for dipping that complement both the dosa and the filling.
You'll see two spots heavily represented in this roundup: Saravana Bhavan in Manhattan and the Ganesh Temple Canteen in Queens, which make the best I've had in the city. If you can only go to one, the Temple Canteen is consistently amazing, and their non-dosa offerings are also fantastic. If you're stuck in Manhattan, don't worry, Saravana Bhavan will treat you right.
Check out the slideshow for the liner notes to this album of greatest dosa hits, and let us know about your favorites in the comments.