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Bam! The pizza dosa at Jersey City newcomer Chennai Flavors
The dosa in its many variant forms is one of the world’s greatest culinary inventions: a crepe made from a naturally fermented batter of ground rice and lentils, usually wrapped around a filling of potatoes, nuts, and chiles. For those who believe in vegetarianism, it represents the most stable and sustainable model of food production the world has yet seen. Yes, dosas could feed the entire world.
Conventionally, the most basic filled form of the dish — the masala dosa — comes accompanied by a pair of chutneys (from a list that includes coconut, cilantro, peanut, and, now, tomato), and a spicy soup called sambar.
The recipe is not one of ancient vintage, though the elements can be traced back a century and more. Potatoes are hardly a historic Indian staple, but they are essential to both samosas and dosas. Some say the filled dosa was inspired by the French crepe — it may be, since the French had a colony in South India called Pondicherry. Either way, the dish was invented in and will be forever associated with South India, and its multiple recipes represent the versions made in one part of the region or another.
But the world of dosas is rocking. While it had been adapted earlier, first with American cheese and then with lamb (in an upscale Manhattan version, destroying its whole vegetarian purpose and not very good), it has recently been merged with Italian-American pizza to create — ta-dah! — the pizza dosa.
This invention was recently encountered at Chennai Flavors, a new restaurant in Jersey City’s Little India, located along Newark Avenue.
The thing is stuffed with bottled tomato sauce and grated pizza cheese. The wrapper is a plain dosa that’s been brushed with more tomato sauce as it is griddle-cooked on one side in the conventional manner. Usually, Indian masalas are used in this capacity. And more of the tomato sauce is served as a chutney, along with the regular fresh-coconut type typical of South Indian cuisine.
But how does it taste? Fairly awful to this observer, with the sourness of the wrapper being eclipsed by the cloying red sauce, and the crispness of the shell being defeated by the damp shellacking of sauce during cooking.
Call me a stick in the mud, but I prefer the regular masala dosa. Or to be more specific, the Pondicherry version served at places like Sri Ganesh’s Dosa House and the Dosa Hut of Jersey Ctiy.
This is the kind of innovation used to keep kids interested in their parents’ food. So who can blame the cooks for trying it? But this sort of development is useless to the canon, which now boasts 50 or more types of dosas, all told, in area dosa restaurants.
Still, it’s a most intriguing development in The Fusion Chronicles.
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827 Newark Avenue
Jersey City, NJ