BACKGROUND:

The humble dosa is a delectable South Indian dish which can now truly be called a national Indian dish. It is available from the streets of India to the topmost five and seven star hotels. Its acceptability is very high. It is relished equally by all sections of Indian society irrespective of caste and creed. It appeals to both the vegetarian and the non vegetarian alike. It is also popular outside India especially in Singapore, Malaysia and  Sri Lanka. It is also available where ever Indians are settled in large numbers like UK, USA, Canada, Australia and many other countries.

However the dosa is now facing competition from fast food joints which are opening in large numbers all over the country. What was once available at very affordable prices is now sold at relatively high prices. It almost seems that there is a price conspiracy against the humble dosa. Its survival is not under threat but its popularity is beginning to be challenged.

I have always wondered as to how many dosas must be getting consumed every day in our country. It is surely a very difficult task. But I recently came across a study that reported that it is estimated that in India, hold your breath, a whooping 1.2 billion yes 1.2 billion dosas are consumed daily by an estimated 30 crore persons. (Ref: Moneycontrol.com 03 Oct. 2013).  Mind boggling but not surprising because it is consumed all across the country and still only 25% of the population are doing so everyday. No doubt the share of the four South Indian states must be very high.

ORIGIN

It is reported that foods like dosa and appam were known to the ancient Tamils in 1st century AD as is mentioned in the authoritative Tamil Sangam Literature of that period. However some other researchers are of the opinion that it originated in the small temple town of Udipi in Karnataka. One thing is clear, the dosa's origin is lost in antiquity. In modern times the dosa is recognised as a Tamil dish hugely popularised not only in India but all over the world largely or perhaps even exclusively by persons from Udipi who own and run the highly popular Udipi restaurants.

PREPARATION & SERVINGS:

It is very simple to prepare a dosa if the batter is available. The batter consists of a mixture of rice and urad dal in the ratio of 2:1 or more,which is ground very fine. It is allowed to ferment overnight. The dosa is prepared by taking a desired measure of the fermented batter and spreading it thin on a hot tava which is greased with oil or ghee. After a couple of minutes it is rolled into a wrap or folded into a half or shaped as a triangle and served hot. This is the basic dosa.

Variants of this basic form are also equally popular. The urad dal can be replaced by maida or semolina to give maida dosa or rava dosa respectively.  When the dosa is served in its basic form it is called plain dosa. It can vary in its single roll form from 6 to 12 inches to six foot, depending on how many persons want to consume it.

The dosa is usually served with a filling inside it. The most popular is known as masala dosa and consists of potato filling. The nature of fillings can change and vary from region and customer choices. Though dosa is a vegetarian dish, the filling could be of say minced meat or chicken, making it equally a tasty non-vegetarian dish. Nowadays it is common to see dosas being served with 'chinese'  fillings like noodles etc. Fillings can also be of cheese, butter or ghee topped depending on one's taste. Dosas can be also fried in butter instead of ghee and this variety is popular abroad. 

In fact any filling can be used and dosa will still taste wonderful. The batter can also be made from a combination of many types of flours and dals. A popular variety which has originated in Karnataka is known as the neer dosa. Here the batter is not fermented. Instead, the  rice is soaked in water for 3-4 hours and then ground and salt added. It is then poured on a heated flat tawa greased with oil or ghee and is heated on both sides and served hot. American chop suey dosa is made with a filling of noodles and tomato ketchup. Yet another variety is set dosa which is cooked only on one side and served in sets of two or three.

The dosas are never served alone. They are served along with side dishes like the most common and popular sambhar and coconut chutney. There can be regional variations to these also.

MASALA DOSA:

Masala dosa is the most widely consumed form of commercially available dosa in the country. A  mixture of shallow cooked potatoes, onions and spices is stuffed into the dosa and it is known as masala dosa. It is served with sambhar and coconut chutney and in some places with couple of more spicy chutneys. In a survey conducted by CNN in 2011 the masala dosa came at 39th position out of 50 most tasty dishes in the world. Another report in 2012 cites it in top ten tasty dishes of the world.

The masala dosa has many variants. One popular one is Mysore masala dosa with coconut and onion chutney spread inside along with potato filling accompanied by a few cashew nuts and other dry fruits. The batter may be of semolina instead of rice and it is known as rava masala dosa. A variety of fillings like different vegetables, noodles, cottage cheese (paneer) can be used as fillings along with potatoes to stuff the masala dosas.

HEALTHY FOOD :

The plain dosa can be consumed as a breakfast food and the masala dosa can be consumed as a lunch or dinner main course. One can have multiple dosas depending on one's appetite. Dosa is  carbohydrate rich and also contains proteins. It  does not contain any sugar or saturated fat. Due to fermentation process its vitamin B and C contents are also on the higher side. What is taken separately as dal and rice along with a vegetable the dosa  combines all the three into a tasty dish.

ECONOMIC POTENTIAL:

As stated earlier nearly 1.2 billion dosas are consumed everyday in India. If the average price was taken as Rs 35 per dosa then the combined daily turn over is around Rs 4,200 crore per day. The annual turn over is Rs 15,33,000 crores. The figures are simply mind boggling. However there must be equally also perhaps a couple of million places were dosas must be getting sold ever day. These will range from simple street vendors to Udipi hotels and the top most hotels.

The dosa making enterprises are handsomely contributing to the country's economy and it can rank perhaps as the highest turn over item made by hand and not machines. It is also a very large employment generator.

The need is to give the dosa a makeover and market it as a fast food. In order to make it more economical it is necessary to automatise the process of making dosas. The rate at which dosas can be made should also go up so that productivity is increased and cost can come down.The batter and fillng combinations with various degrees of spice content can enhance the appeal of the dosa to the young crowd. Dosas have to be liberated from the stereo type of udipi settings and in fact there should be dosa parlours with a variety of dosas to choose from. In this manner it will be possible to counter the spread of unhealthy imported fast food joints in the country.

HIGH PRICE:

Dosa's need an image makeover. They also need to be marketed aggressively and imaginatively to entice the young crowd. The dosa also needs to be priced appropriately. In 1966, I have eaten a sumptuous masala dosa in 30 paise. In 1975 in Chennai I had a wonderful Dosa for 50 paise. Today it costs anywhere from Rs 55 to Rs 90 in my city in normal udipi type joints. The price goes upto Rs 110 - 120 in upper class joints . It can go up to Rs 200- 250 per dosa in five star hotels. On a comparative basis the rise in price of dosa is much higher than other eatables. There is something wrong somewhere in its costing.

The high cost of dosa should not go against it. It is right time for some interested entrepreneur to come forward and bring technology into the making and marketing of dosa. The dosa after all is a multi billion dollar industry in India alone. 

It is time the humble dosa was seen with more attention. In the meantime let us enjoy the good old masala dosa! My favourite is Mysore masala!!

(Image from Wikipedia)


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