There’s nothing better than dunking a piece of dosa in sambhar or chutney and taking the perfect bite.
Tamil Nadu is the birthplace of the dosa, the savory breakfast (although dosas are really an anytime food) crepe that southern India is famous for. Made from fermented rice and lentil-based batters, there are a variety of crepes that are served with dips like chutneys, sambhar, spiced potatoes called masala, and more. Chennai is the home of the dosa—from crunchy, ghee-drenched crisp roasts to dosas made out of semolina to dosas stuffed with a delectable spicy potato filling, there are plenty of good reasons to order a dosa.
A ghee roast starts life like any other dosa; a batter is made with rice and black gram (urad dal) and left to ferment. The magic begins when the dosa batter is ladled out onto a hot tava (a large flat disc-shaped frying pan typically made out of cast iron) to cook because this is when copious amounts of ghee are added to aid the cooking process and add flavor to the dosa. Served hot, it is eaten with a variety of coconut-based chutneys or “gunpowder,” a coarse powder made from a mixture of ground dry spices that typically consists of ground dried chilies, urad dal, chickpeas, salt, and sesame seeds.
Where to Eat It: Namma Veedu Vasantha Bhavan
A masala dosa is a delectable dosa that is stuffed with potatoes cooked with turmeric, coriander, and grated coconut. Dosas are made the way they usually are and the pre-cooked stuffing is added once the dosa is cooked. Then the dosa is expertly folded over twice to hide the stuffing and is served hot with a variety of coconut-based chutneys.
Where to Eat It: Murugan Idli Shop
Onion Podi Dosa
Podi, or “gunpowder” as mentioned above is usually mixed with oil or ghee to act as a dipping sauce for dosas and idlis (a steamed rice cake). So much so that it is typically called “idli podi.” However, there are certain dosa combinations out there where the podi is smeared onto a cooked dosa and then a filling added. Here, scrumptious caramelised onions are layered on top of a smear of podi and the dosa is then folded over and served piping hot with a variety of chutneys and sambhar.
Where to Eat It: Hotel Saravana Bhavan
East meets west in this scrumptious dosa which is made by ladling a generous helping of cheese (usually cheddar) onto a cooked dosa and then folded. The dosa is kept on the tava until the cheese melts and it is served hot. The melted cheese oozing out of the dosa as you tear off a bit to eat is a singularly satisfactory sensation.
Where to Eat It: Mathsya
A rava dosa is a crisp flavor-filled dosa made with a batter of semolina and rice flour. Chopped green chilies are added to the batter and offer a bit of heat. Unlike other dosa batters, the batter for rava dosa is not fermented, and so it’s easy to whip up for a quick breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is best served with green coconut chutney.
Where to Eat It: Sangeetha Veg Restaurant
The batter for oothappams and dosas is similar, but unlike dosas which are made like a crepe, oothappams are thick, like pancakes, and topped with various ingredients such as fried onions, tomatoes, capsicum, coconut, chilies, and coriander. Served hot, they are best enjoyed with chutneys such as green coconut chutney, tomato chutney, or onion chutney.
Where to Eat It: Krishnavillasam
Adais are delicious protein-rich pancakes made from a rice and lentil batter; although a part of the dosa family, the batter for adais is slightly coarse and is not fermented. Curry leaves, red chilies, and asafoetida form part of the batter, and the pancakes are made in such a way that they’re slightly heavier than normal dosas (and therefore more filling). Adais are typically eaten with jaggery (cane sugar) or avial (a thick mixture of vegetables and coconut that is typically seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves), although they are also served with green coconut chutney and tomato chutney.
Where to Eat It: The Grand Sweets and Snacks
An appam is a bowl-shaped pancake made with a batter of fermented rice flour, coconut milk, and salt. Appams are crisp and thin around the edges and have a soft doughy center. They derive their signature shape from the pans that are used to cook them in called appachatti. They’re especially delicious when accompanied by a coconut milk-based vegetable stew although they are also served with spicy meat and fish curries. They can be sweetened by adding sweetened coconut milk to the centers as they are cooking and served with sugar.
Where to Eat It: Kumarakom
Ragi is also called finger millet, and it’s a very nutritious grain that is common across the southern states of India. The millet grains are milled into flour which forms the basis for the batter of the ragi dosa. Rice flour, yogurt, and water are combined with ragi flour to make a dense batter. Chopped onions, chopped coriander leaves, and finely chopped green chilies are also added to the batter. Once the dosas are made they are served piping hot with green chutney or mint chutney.
Where to Eat It: Prems Graama Bhojanam
Pesarattu is also known as cheeldo (typically in Rajasthan). It is similar to dosa in its appearance, but the batter is primarily made up of green gram (moong dal). Whole green gram is soaked in water for at least four hours, after which it’s ground to a smooth paste with green chilies, ginger, and salt. Water is added and the smooth batter is poured onto a griddle or a frying pan. Pesarattu is best eaten hot with tamarind chutney, mint chutney, or green coconut chutney.