Desi foods that can conquer foreign palates

Could an Indian dish be as universally loved as the burger?

Published: Jan 3, 2015 07:49:06 AM IST
Updated: Jan 5, 2015 01:32:30 PM IST
Desi foods that can conquer foreign palates
Image: Indiapicture
The beauty of the dosa is that you can roll anything into it

Chai latte, vindaloo, chicken tikka masala; Indian food has already found a corner on the international table. But it hasn’t quite achieved the pride of place and immediate recognition that chow mein, burger, pizza or nachos have. There are very few cities in the world where you won’t find any of these dishes; Indian food, though, is still restricted to the major metropolises. But there are a few dishes which have the potential to jump into the limelight and make Indian food ubiquitous.

Dosa: Imagine walking down the Champs-Élysées and popping in for a Lyonnaise potato dosa, sitting across the Colosseum with an Arrabbiata smeared dosa, or biting into a shrimp barbie dosa before diving into the Great Barrier Reef. Pipe dream? Not quite. From Ulan Bator to Okinawa, Alice Springs to Winnipeg, you can find restaurants serving dosa. The beauty of the dosa is that it’s a tabula rasa, you can roll, fold or smear anything into its flat white face. You can stick to a potato filling or you can be as innovative as you dare.

Its similarity to a crepe, or pancake, make it easily accessible to any palate and setting up a dosa counter doesn’t need a high investment or specialised equipment. The sizzle of the batter and the drama of shaping it into a perfect circle make for a great spectacle.

Expect two things to happen: Dosas are going to be available in almost every city and the second generation of restaurateurs are going to incorporate local foods into the fillings.

Biryani in a box: There isn’t a single one-pot Indian dish that is more amenable to being sold in an easy-to-carry, easy to re-heat box than the biryani. A flavourful, spiced rice dish, it’s a meal in itself, so it’s perfect for lunch or dinner at work, with family or friends, or in front of the TV by yourself.

Adapting the biryani to suit your diner is easy: There’s no dearth of modifications you can make without losing its traditional character. You can either approach the biryani by region, by the degree of spiciness or by the degree of wetness. You can make it with any kind of meat or seafood you like. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and even vegans to choose from. Add-ons like raita, a chopped salad, papad or pickles are just as easy to pack.

In a kiosk format at a mall, you can make it interactive by offering a variety of toppings from browned onions, chopped coriander, whole mint or fried dried fruits. Add some kebabs and a curry, and you’ve got a biryani platter.

(This story appears in the 09 January, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Eileen Weintraub

    Yum! The majority of people in USA still have not had the pleasure of South Indian veg food. The beauty of the traditional dosa is that also does not use animal products it is a vegan dish! That means climate friendly using far less of the planet\'s resources to produce. It was North India food that made its way known in USA up until now, now we can pave the way for the dosa and other climate friendly veg foods for the sake of health and the rest of the planet i.e. the animals as well!

    on Jan 17, 2015
  • Philip Wollen

    I agree with the general thrust of this article - but it sadly misses the big initiative. The planet is going to hell in a hand-basket because of the vile meat and dairy industry (greenhouse gas pollution, cancers, cardiovascular disease, obesity, water wastage . . . and egregious animal cruelty that has to be seen to be believed). India leads the world by a country mile when it comes to delicious, colourful and healthy vegan food. I often say that compared to Indian food, French food is like airline food. So if India is serious, she must return to her wonderful, rich Ahimsa roots - and ditch the frankenstein foods which now contaminates the country. My dream is that the next billionaire will build a veg version of McDonalds. My guess is that he will be Indian. . . . I cannot wait for that day to dawn. . . . . Philip Wollen, Australia

    on Jan 14, 2015
  • Gt

    For dosa to be commercially successful, it will need to 1) perhaps change shape from round to square. Easier to spray onto a continuously moving belt and cut into required pieces. Also easier to mechanically 'roll' or fold with fillings, easier to roll flat into the 'paper butter' iteration with teflon cylinders and measured drips of fat, and automatic dispensers of filling, cheese etc. 2) variable temperature control along the moving belt will be assured, a major requirement at different stages of the dosa. 3) speed of production can be adjuted and multiple production lines, e.g. for vegetarian, vegan and non-veg. can be assured, as also for various oils, e.g. sesame, canola, non-Gmo etc. to suit different customers. 4) No specialized staff is needed 5) The density, rheology, and temperature of the batter can be fully controlled and its microbial state kept steady. 6) The batter will be sprayed in a fine mist over the moving belt. This can be semi-continuous if we use evacuated heat pipe technology to recover waste heat and cool the belt for the BEGINNING stage. The END, or rather, the PENULTIMATE BAKING, STAGE is the hottest. Oiled rollers will immediately begin a series of moves to create the paper butter effect. The Ridge and valley style soft dosa can also be created and so can the thin rawa/wheat dosa, with this method. The CFTRI, Mysore dosa machine lacks all of these refinements. Heat control and heat recovery is the key. I am sure that a German or Japanese mind will quickly devise a great machine along these lines. I have seen the Indian chapati machines and they are indeed horrors of conception and execution, compared to some others of elegant design elsewhere. Are engineers not supposed to be able to think as well as design and fabricate at the same time? Some idli machines are horrors of hygiene and conception for the same reason. Do we Indians lack any semblance of common sense and any sense of being CLEAN where our FOOD is concerned? That is what all our shastras enjoin!!!!!

    on Jan 8, 2015