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The Other Taste of India

Posted by Sheryl in Toronto + Places on 12/Jan/2007
dosa Say "Indian food" to just about anyone and they'll swoon over chana masala, paneer, maybe tandoori chicken. Say the word "dosa" and their faces will get a confused expression.

India, like many countries that are long in length and encompass a variety of distinct geographic areas, has many different cuisines. Most Indian restaurants concentrate on the cuisines of the northern regions; heavy on dairy, tomatoes and meat. In the south of India and Sri Lanka, the food is very different. Dairy is rare, the spices are hot (deep fried chili peppers make a common and tasty snack) and the heavier breads of the north are replaced with large, light, crepe-like breads called dosa.

Dosa batter is made from a mixture of ground lentils and rice and is fermented overnight. Fried on a griddle or a large crepe pan, they can range from just under 12 inches to 2 or even 3 feet wide, depending on the restaurant. Served plain, or stuffed with a variety of masalas, usually a base of fried potatoes, onions and chilis, dosa makes a cheap, tasty and filling meal.

In Toronto, to get decent dosa, you used to have to head over to Little India on Gerrard Street. Every other Indian restaurant seemed to only serve northern Indian cuisine. However, a few years ago, South Indian Dosa Mahal opened up just east of Bloor and Lansdowne, and now west-enders can enjoy this wonderful dish without having to travel too far to get it.

Situated in what used to be a chain sub shop location, the restaurant is sparse and brightly lit. Tables are packed together tightly and it can get crazy at lunchtime. This is not the place to come for a romantic candlelit dinner. However, it is the place to come if you're looking for an exciting and interesting twist on Indian food.

dosa South Indian Dosa Mahal offers a huge variety of dosa fillings -- everything from egg and onion, cheese, chicken and goat. Uthapam, thicker and more like a pancake than a crepe, are also offered on the menu, along with roti, thali and a variety of appetizers ranging from gorgeously flaky samosas to light fluffy idly (steamed rice cakes with the consistency of bread) and vadai, a spicy donut-shaped appetizer made from chickpea flour. Everything comes accompanied with a dish of spicy sambar and coconut chutney for dipping.

More startling than even the size of the dishes or the amazing taste of the offerings are the prices. Most of the dosa range in price from $4.99 to $6.99, appetizers are a buck for two samosa or three idly or vadai, appetizer-sized roti are $1 each. A meal for two with appetizers, beverages, taxes and tip ranges from $20 to $25. Not bad at all for one of the most filling and delicious meals you'll ever eat.

South Indian Dosa Mahal is located at 1284 Bloor West, at Lansdowne. They're open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 10 pm, but are closed Sunday and holidays. Take-out available, but no delivery. 416-516-7701

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