My dosa isn’t a scroll but triangular, like a giant sambussa
They’re lining up to get in. The wedding party. Actually, not the wedding party. These are the aunts and uncles and parents who’ve come to sample dishes for their daughter’s wedding breakfast they’ve booked here for next June.
“She’s marrying an American Anglo boy,” says an uncle. This wedding party is all originally from Gujarat in northwestern India.
Me, tonight, I wanted Indian. But South Indian. Actually, dosas, the giant thin crepes that come rolled up like a scroll and steaming hot to your table, along with a bunch of delicious chutneys. And sambar, a kind of lentils and veggie and tamarind broth stew.
It’s seven, Monday night. Tandoori smells waft by. I come to a space I swear used to be an Indian restaurant called “8Elements.” Now it’s a Hindu temple. Scatterings of shoes sit in neat pairs outside, people kneel and sit on the floor and pray while a leader chants into a microphone inside in front of ceramic elephants and sacred figures.
“Monday is devoted to Shiva, the god of creation and destruction,” says this gal who has just come outside with her husband. “But mainly it’s all about love.”
Then, a few yards up, this sign: “Bawarchi Dosa.”
9520 Black Mountain Road, Suite A, San Diego
Dosa. The magic word. It’s through an arched doorway in a solid wall.
“The name means ‘dosa chef’ in Urdu language,” an Indian guy outside says. I head in, sit down at a booth, and pour myself a water from a pitcher (one on each table). The owner, Mr. Gandhi, comes to the table the wedding arrangers are sitting at and starts explaining the food options and bringing out samples.
Waiters hurry past, carrying these great golden rolls like proclamations from the kitchen to other tables. Dosas! Mouth’s watering already.
Berna the waiter leaves a menu with me. Lots of curries: lamb curry, goat curry, vegetarian curry, seafood curry, most around $13. Tandoori-cooked kebabs, around $16. Then a page for dosas and another page for “South Indian Tiffins.” The two things I want to try.
Confession: I know it’s the cliché of Indian food, but my great love is chicken tikka masala. They say it was invented by a fast-food cook in Glasgow, Scotland, to up sales by appealing to British tastes. Just like the Chinese created chop suey (“scraps”) for American workers of the railroad era.
The chutneys — coconut and peanut — are, well, okay, but not exciting. The sambar, stew, is at right.
But thanks to my friend Alan, who ran a South Indian place hereabouts, I discovered dosas. Just breaking those giant crackers apart and mixing chutneys and the sambar stew in with them at his place was the perfect way to snack and chat your way through a whole afternoon.
So I make up my mind. Gonna blow a bit of bucks so I can taste these different things. And take something back to Carla: chicken tikka masala.
That’s the first thing I order. To go. Costs $12.99.
Then I ask for one of the dosas. Kinda like a rolled-up Frisbee made from rice and lentil batter. Comes with a bunch of chutneys, seems, and you can have the plain or the masala (ones made with potato), onion, or butter potato. Costs $7.99. Or, for $9.99, you can get a “paper dosa,” two feet across, thin and crisp. Or for $10.99, a dosa stuffed with potatoes and fresh veggies.
The one I get is the “Special Dosa, $8.99,” because you get house sauces smeared over the inside. From the kothamalli (basically coriander and onions) to the Andhra Spicy spread, from the same spices Emperor Nero used to import to Rome from Andhra Pradesh back in the day.
Berna warns me they are hot, hot, hot. But what the heck. I ask for my dosa with that.
Then, to get my veggie fix, I go to the “South Indian Tiffins” page. Smaller dishes like idly. “A South Indian staple,” it says, “steamed rice and lentil dumplings.” You get three for $6.99. Or punugulu, deep-fried lentil balls served with chutney ($6.99).
Malabar paratha bread, delicate as phyllo pastry
I ask for a Malabar Paratha tiffin. Paratha’s another kind of bread. And with it you can get a veggie kurma or chicken, goat, or lamb curry. Veggie’s $12.99, chicken’s $14.99, goat and lamb go for $16.99. I go for the veggie kurma. Cheaper, healthier, right? Comes with the sambar (stew) and a couple of bowls of chutney.
Lord. My dosa, for starters, is hot, hot, hot. The Andhra spices are spread red across the golden shell. And, man, no matter what chutneys I dip into, coconut or peanut chutney (kinda disappointing flavors, have to say), or the sambar stew, that Andhra zing follows at every crunch.
Thank the stars I have my paratha bread: so flaky, it’s almost like phyllo dough. Goes great with these tasty veggies in their creamy sauce.
Meanwhile, next door, Mr. Gandhi is with the wedding party, tasting. They decide they’ll go with the Andhra dosa. Like my hot hot one. Test of the new groom?
I leave with one regret. That dosa was too hot. If I’d had, like, the Mysore Masala dosa, I could have ripped at it and stuffed my face the way I’d dreamed of doing. Still, the clove-like smell and taste that stays with you after the burn is like a balm that almost makes it worth it.
My veggie kurma, a curry
Of course the thing I end up loving most is that danged chicken tikka masala I share with Carla. Creamy, tomatoey, curried, richly marinated in spices and yogurt, with lots of chunks of chicken and potato. And, okay, born in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland. Who cares?
Call it the gateway drug to Indian cuisine.
9520 Black Mountain Road, Suite A, San Diego
Hours: 11:30 a.m.–2:30 pm; 5–9:30 p.m., Monday–Thursday (opens 6 p.m. Mondays, closes 10:30 p.m. Fridays); 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sunday
Prices: Dosa (large crepe with sambar — veggie stew — and two chutneys), $7.99; paper dosa (thin, 2-feet wide), $9.99; stuffed dosa (filled with potatoes, or veggies), $10.99; Idly (steamed rice and lentil dumplings), three for $6.99; Punugulu (deep-fried lentil balls served with chutney), $6.99; Malabar paratha (bread) tiffin with veggie kurma, $12.99; with chicken, $14.99; with goat or lamb, $16.99; lunch buffet (Friday, Saturday, Sunday only), $12.99 (Friday), $16.99 (Saturdays, Sundays)
Buses: 20, 31
Nearest bus stop: Black Mountain Road at Activity Road