Amrit Singh, Vijay Iyer, and Ashok Kondabolu on how to eat (and dip!)
October 19, 2012
What is dosa? It’s a crepe made from fermented rice and lentils, but as Himanshu Suri claims in Amrit Singh’s new film Dosa Hunt, “dosa is a metaphor for the American Dream.” Alan Palomo of Neon Indian, serving as the “Mexican Ambassador” in the film, has a more toothsome definition: A dosa is a cross between a “chimichanga and Chipotle burrito.” To add to the list, there are different types of dosa: paper (thin and crispy); masala (stuffed with potatoes); Mysore (spiced with red chili chutney); rava (made with semolina); and Pondicherry (with veggies and chilies).
No matter how you choose to define it, the South Indian dish continues to inspire a range of interpretations, which is why a group of indie musicians decided to document their search for the best dosa this city had to offer. Dosa Hunt, which premiered earlier this month in Williamsburg, features Singh (also executive editor of Stereogum), Palomo, Suri and Ashok Kondabolu of Das Racist, jazz musician Vijay Iyer, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, and Anand Wilder of Yeasayer. (At Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg, moviegoers were treated to mini-dosai and samosas catered by Anjappar so they too could participate in an immersive dosa experience.)
Singh explains that the film is “not a comprehensive resource of dosa culture, just a peek at it,” adding that “the hunt has just begun.” Here, the hunt continues with dosa advice from Singh, Iyer, and Kondabolu.
What is your favorite dosa joint in the city?
Vijay Iyer: In Manhattan, Saravana Bhavan. It’s the realest of the real; it is the most like being in India or at home.
Ashok Kondabolu: Dosa Hutt [in Flushing]. The dosas are good and the Tamil men who work there were pretty resistant to us lingering and having loud conversations, which I support. Temple Canteen, I’ve been going there as long as I can remember. Hindu icons for sale and no photography permitted.
Amrit Singh: In Manhattan, I like Saravana Bhavan for its sambar and its Onion Mysore Masala Dosa, which is spicy and chunkily onion’ed. [Sambar = a spiced lentil soup for dipping or pouring over dosa.] I also enjoy Pongal, for sentimentally filmic reasons, and also because their Madras Rava Masala Dosa is properly podi’d and contains copious green chilis. In Queens, for me, it is Dosa Hutt. You can’t go wrong, it’s cheaper than any place else, and their Indian imported soft drink game is off the charts. (Get the Pondicherry Masala Dosa.)
What is the best way to eat dosa?
Vijay Iyer: With your hands, for maximum sensory contact!
Ashok Kondabolu: Depends on the type and the condiments. I typically eat dosa or dosa with onions at home with peanut chutney and ginger pickle sweetened with sugar. This is purely dipping. With masala dosa I like to dip the edges into sambar or coconut chutney and then pour sambar over the middle and eat with a fork. Wild.
Amrit Singh: In the premiere programs, I wrote “there is NO WRONG WAY TO EAT A DOSA,” and had the Nitehawk staff set out silverware for everyone. But of course there is a wrong way to eat a dosa, and it involves using silverware. Use your hands! Be one with the dosa. Also Ashok claims that there is a great dipping vs. pouring debate, and if that is true, I’m a habitual and instinctual dipper and would probably have serious words with any so-called “pourer.”
Describe your most memorable dosa experience.
Vijay Iyer: I have fond memories of my grandfather making dosa for my cousins and me in Mumbai back in the mid-90s.
Ashok Kondabolu: Trying to make dosa myself sucked; it is not easy to properly ladle the batter onto a pan and handle it properly. Props to all the dosa-making people of the world.
Amrit Singh: Well, the most interesting time I had with dosa was probably this time I got together with my friends and ate a bunch and then turned it into a movie. The second most interesting is probably a tie between every other time, when I’ve stuffed myself full and been sure I could do it again the next day (and then often did).
Click here to keep up with the latest news about Dosa Hunt and upcoming screenings.
Read more on Dosa Hunt: Ashok and Amrit Go to the Movies (The Margins)