JeJu

Dosa hut hut Hut

In food on 10/05/2010 at 8:23 pm

Having food poisoning really makes me appreciate eating, especially spicy stuff. Though I was excited about captioning a pictorial tour of Eataly, we both decided it was highly overrated and really just a feast for the eyes, all pomp, no circumstance. Even the lowly rustic bread had no flavor, with a terribly even crumb. It’s got nothing on Sullivan Street Bakery. For once, Americans win!

While browsing Indian vegetarian cookbooks at the Union Square Barnes n’ Noble behemoth, salivating at the pictures of spicy food I currently can’t eat, I resolved that once I recovered, I would dive into the intricate world of sub-continent spicery. Our recent second trip to the Ganesh temple (don’t skip the awesome intro) in Flushing has really opened my eyes up to the vast world of meatlessness, and it all has to do with how each dish was spiced.

The first time we trekked to the temple, we were foiled in our attempt to eat in the basement canteen because of the Grand Ratha Yatra celebration. The canteen was closed. All there stood was a huge white tent in front of the temple. We were sweaty, tired and hungry from the twenty minute walk from Main Street and we were pissed. Had we come all this way for nothing?

Luckily, an elderly Indian couple told us we could get free food today. All we had to do was take off our shoes! Quicker than you could say dosa, we were skulking into the white tent, grabbing our styrofoam prasadam and wolfing it down on the sidewalk across the street. Wow, everything was rice-y, but it all tasted different and delicious in its own way!

This bento box from heaven, thank Ganesh, contains a grainy medley. We had to wait a month to write this post because the other half’s Indian friend just resurfaced, our all-things-vegetarian expert. We couldn’t identify these items without her help. She frequents this very temple often, and can attest to the authenticity of food from this particular province of South India of her youth that the temple churns out in mass quantities. The orange goop is suji halwa, a sweet semolina pudding. At first, we all thought it was pumpkin, but the origin of the color is now a complete mystery.

The yellowish bloop is sambhar rice, a dal and rice mixture with lots of other add-ins. After some figuring, it dawned on me that the Indian way of cooking rice is just like the Latino method, adding oils and fragrances, coating the raw rice with it and then simmering the whole pot till done. It seems the only difference between sambhar and biryani is the addition of dal and spice variation. Olé!

The white slop is yogurt rice, which according to Western eyes should be sweet like rice pudding, but is actually slightly savory. This dish is similar in taste to Arabic or Middle Eastern preparations of adding yogurt in dollops to their rice. Here it is just mixed-in before service.

The magical methi tepla (like stuffed roti) is as QQ as it is gorgeous. It is translucent and beautiful as any handmade Japanese paper, and is ten levels above any Asian scallion pancake. The Ganesh temple offers an extensive catering menu, but this item isn’t one of them. The other half cries to sleep thinking we’ll never eat this again…

The Ganesh temple is rumored to have the best dosa in the five boroughs. Though we weren’t able to have any that day, we thought it was convenient that the second best dosa was located right next door, at a small dive called the Dosa Hutt. Our Filipino scout was dispatched and returned with some tasteless blandness which we washed down with equally thick poor excuse for a mango lassi. We are so spoiled by Karma Kafe.

Since we now drive by Flushing about once a month, we returned last weekend hoping to enter the canteen. This time we succeeded. The entrance is on the side so we could avoid all the worshippers. The canteen is really just the basement of the temple, no frills whatsoever, except for a massive Ganesh figurine, which was still dwarfed by the cavernous space. The atmosphere is vintage Flushing. TVs of different sizes hung from the ceiling and hogged up floor space while playing a low-budget Bollywood movie, the kind where the actors just stand around talking the whole time.

We were a little overwhelmed by the menu. After reading foreign words for awhile, scanning for something like a sampler…we found one, but then were told they were sold out! We scrambled to re-order while the ever-growing line behind us grumbled restlessly. We made sure to order the paper dosa, not only because I saw it on Bourdain’s show years ago, but this Indian guy in line recommended it. Does he think we are bumbling tourists or something?

Here’s what we ordered:

Mango Lassi – Karma Kafe still wins by a landslide because they balance the creamy thickness with an adequate pinch of tangy sour.

Here is a view into the kitchen. They have vats of food in ready or almost-ready state. Our eyes bugged out when we saw the paper dosa. It is longer than two regulation dinner plates. It is unbelievably QQ since the batter is made of ground up rice and dal. This dish came with three dipping sauces, but only the light green one was interesting. We believe it is a green chile and coconut meat concoction, thick and blended. This gigantic dosa was enough to feed two people, but we figured since we lived so far away, why not splurge?

To the left is vada – it tasted like soggy bland donuts sinking in yogurt sauce. Iddiyapam is the rice stick specialty on the right. This one I can say the Singapore curry version they sell at Chinese take-out places is much tastier, or the Taiwanese stir-fry version with woodear and pork.

Ah this is a special dosa, stuffed with slices of curried potatoes and chunks of white paneer. I enjoyed it but the stuffing made the dosa soggy, which is a shame because then it loses its elastic pow.

Onion uttapam reminded me of Korean pancakes, but on a less-than-stellar level. The white onions were practically raw, and the batter reminded me of injera, the slightly sour bread of Ethiopian cuisine, but not as good. After the incredible paper dosa, it was pretty much downhill from there. The saving grace of this entree was the yellow dipping sauce that came with it, another chunky slightly curry-tasting stew with carrots, tomatoes and chiles.

The elderly gentleman sitting at our table chatted us up. He rambled about a member of the temple who used to work at the Dosa Hutt who started up a cart near NYU. It only took him seven years to make a million dollars selling his dosas. He would start at 11am and be sold out of batter by 3pm. I asked if his dosas were as good as these. The answer was no, but according to said gentleman, that vendor does donate generously to the temple slush fund.

My apologies Sir Ganesh. I can’t decide if we’ll be back. If you had a choice, wouldn’t you pick liang pi noodles next time? Well, right now I can’t go anywhere, my stomach is cramping.

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