I have very few principles. One of them is "never eat at a place that spells dosa as dhosa, or sambar as sambhar". After I visited NYC for the first time, I added the "palok ponneer" to the list. There are thirty two restaurants in NYC, 6th street, alone that masquerade as Indian restaurants, with such egregious errors.
Speaking of restaurants, there are two dishes that are always the proof of a South Indian restaurant. One is coconut chutney. Anything less than fresh coconut reveals the lack of dedication of a chef to his/her clientele. Desiccated coconut is for the birds. If you are so hard pressed for fresh coconut, you could always use fried Sanaga pappu. Or, even use ginger pickle imaginatively (example: add sugar and water to make it a quick chutney).
The best coconut chutney? Fortunately, it is easy to get it right. The magic is in the freshness of the coconut. If the coconut is aged, it can give of that oil smell (which is just right for avial, another measure of a Kerala restaurant, but I digress). Fresh green chilies can add the required punch. After all this effort if you goof up on "tiragamOta", you lost your flavor.
Of course, the second measure is "rava dOsa". Over the years, I have eaten rava dosa from the ends of earth. I have eaten in London, NYC, SFO, Houston, Detroit, Madras, Bombay, Hyderabad, Nagpur. I have even tried ordering it in a restaurant in the arctic circle ("Sorry, we have reindeer meat if you would like to try").
For me the perfect rava dosa is a platonic concept. We, mere mortals,are eternally doomed to try to perfect it. I do have good memories of rava dosa though. My sister-in-law can turn out a great rava dosa on a good day. I recall Bharat Cafe on Etukuru road used to serve a good rava dosa. Unfortunately, neither my mother nor I can make good rava dosas.
What makes a rava dosa good? In one word, taste. Add too much oil and you cannot eat more than one. Add too little oil, you cannot even eat one. Add the potato curry, you lost the purity of dosa. Keep the mixture too long, you lost the crispiness. Make dosa too early, you lost the glutinous cohesion. What can I say? I am too picky with my dosas.
Not perfecting rava dosa was a major disappointment to me. I could make paani poori from scratch. Why, I am known to make gumbo, chili, and even that divine dish panasa poTTu koora. I could, on occasion, command even yeast to produce bread. But, when it comes to rava dosa, I am a klutz.
Fortunately, recently, M. has decided that she needs to address this problem. Thanks to that, I report, I am having rava dosa for breakfast, lunch. and dinner. Is there such a thing as too much rava dosa?
July 8, 2000.
PS: I could see in future what is going to happen to my dinner invitations. Do any of you know the story of Sybil, the Greek woman who was cursed with her fulfillment of her wish?
[Originally published at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/racchabanda/message/766].