Dosas are one of the culinary specialties of southern India that we’ve been anticipating. Having found a purveyor of these crispy crepe-like rolls filled with potato and other goodies near our hotel (Pragathi Tiffin Center), we set out in the morning to find them. When we found the place, it was teeming with locals, cued up for their food and standing around the front eating it. Obviously a good sign. A nice young man there with his wife and daughter gave us a little guidance about how to order. As we waited and watched, we came to understand that this stand, like others we saw today, use a ticket system. You buy a chit for your particular order from the cashier and submit that to the ‘kitchen’ to let them know what you’ve ordered, and wait for the food to come off the line. In our case today, our helpful friend had submitted our chits for us, and while he said he would get our food when it came up, he abandoned us after he got his order to go. To be fair another man seemed to have taken over our hand-holding by then, and he instructed us to wait off to the side where we would have a place to set our food down (most people there were holding their plates in one hand and eating with the other). Once the dosa came, they were accompanied by two sauces, one a kind of off-white with a slight sweetness and hints of mint in a coconut milk base. The other seemed to be tomato/onion based, and had tamarind fruity flavor. Inside the dosas was a delicious spicy sauce, red onions, mustard/ turmeric/ green-chili seasoned potatoes. On the side we were given a small tin of sambar, a traditional accompaniment for dosas with a sort of vegetable soup consistency. Ours was dominated by sort of sweet/savory cinnamon flavor.
As we made our way toward one of the predominantly Muslim districts to see some famous sites there, we came across a street vendor selling some bizarre looking coal black nuggets that did not really look like something to be eaten, but there was a family there with a girl who seemed like she might be amenable to a little English practice. M questioned her about what these nuggets might be, and she said she didn’t know (at least in English), but in the meantime, her father had offered us a piece of one he had bought. Peeling away the black skin revealed a creamy white kernel with a texture and taste similar to the kernels in a mangosteen (though we only tried a small portion).
Finding our target kebab stand closed until 2 pm, we decided to do some market exploration and actual cultural site-seeing before heading back for some delicious grilled meat. Still we couldn’t resist trying an ice cream sickle from a street vendor. B had been eager to find some pistachio ice cream, and this vendor’s pushcart had a picture of just such a thing. Unfortunately the actual contents of the package we received was some kind of lightly mango flavored cold corn starch chalk. Yes it was cold. Yes there was some vague fruit flavor, but the texture was singularly unappetizing.
After a couple touristing fails (including a tsking from an old woman who refused us entry to the mosque – translated by others as M was wearing shorts/t-shirt (we knew that was going to be a problem) and B was wearing a shirt that only just covered her butt rather than going down to her knees) and one moderate success, we made our way back to the kebab stand (Kabab-E Jahangiri Center), charmingly nestled into one leg of the giant arch, Machli Kaman, that spanned the road. We ordered sheik kabab, boti kabab and something called tala huva gosht (mutton in a spicy sauce) along with parata. All were delicious with super tender meat and bold, intense flavors. Another saucy chutney was also included, which had hints of mint.
Along our trek towards the next site, we stopped at a chai/snack stand that was teaming with patrons. We bought our tokens, picked up a samosa and two chais and sad down on the spare bench with plastic stools for tables. While we were busy with our obligatory photographic documentation, one of the workers there stared at us and gave a classic India head bobble. This non-verbal gesture is as ubiquitous as it is opaque to new visitors to the area. It involves a sort of side-to-side movement of the top of the head pivoted at the neck. According the Wikipedia it can mean ‘yes’ or ‘I understand’ or ‘I hear you’ (seems similar to ‘hai’ or ‘eh’ in Japanese). In our case it seemed to read “Why are those crazy foreigners taking pictures of their food?” In any case, the chai turned out to be delicious, with a strong cardamom flavor that made it more similar to what B makes for us everyday. The samosa was flaky with a reasonably good flavor but we kept finding small crunchy bits that we eventually figured out were peas that had been rehydrated. We were unsure if that was a deliberate way of preparing then here, since we have typically samosas with fresh or at least thawed from frozen peas.
Finishing a relatively long trek through the smog and general chaos, we stopped to grab a light ‘take away’ dinner from a cafe (Bombay Bakery) that seemed to be quite popular. While usually not fans of food genres like Indo-Chinese, we had been seeing quite of few of these places around during the day, so it seemed to warrant a test. As we were trying to figure out where to buy our chit, and where then to submit it, a local waiting for his food pointed out that there was a KFC across the street that we could go to. Of course we emphasized that we preferred the spicy flavors of the local food. He seemed a little incredulous, but eventually accepted our explanation. We ordered the interestingly named Chicken 65 and a sweet bun (bun maska) that was the favorite of a reviewer whose comments now appeared as a large poster at the restaurant. The chicken, deep fried once then reheated and sauced in a wok, had a little heat and flavor (seemingly soy based), but the texture suffered from the breading, sitting around and reheating. The sweet bun was actually pretty tasty, a smear of butter and a little sugar combining with a touch of salt to deliver a very nice balance.