Madras Dosa House – Vancouver, BC


Madras Dosa House
5656 Fraser St
Vancouver, BC
(604) 327-1233

Recently my daughter told me that her favourite cuisine is South Indian vegetarian…this is after many years of sushi as here top choice when dining out. A couple of years ago, I had taken her to the Vancouver location of Saravanaa Bhavan – a restaurant chain hailing from the city of Chennai that specializes in the cuisine of Tamil Nadu. She was smitten. She always asks if we can dine there whenever we are nearby and she held here birthday party with her friends there recently. (She and a number of her friends are verging on vegetarianism). I am only too happy to oblige her.

Being a carnivore, I find Indian vegetarian food to be the only meatless food that truly satisfies me. Unlike the typical “beans and tofu” vegetarian cuisines endemic to this city, I truly do not miss meat at all when I eat this food. Also, I had traveled through that part of India a couple of decades ago and fell in love with the cuisine and had always wanted to explore it first hand. With impetus, I am now in the midst of exploring this cuisine with my daughter by learning to cook it. I would like her to grow up knowing that vegetarianism can actually be a delicious lifestyle. I have stocked my kitchen with the requisite pantry items – luckily all very easy to find here in Vancouver. I already had a number of great cookbooks (I’m a bit of a cookbook hound), and there is no shortage of websites from which you can learn this cuisine.

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Dosa (on Valencia) – San Francisco, CA


Dosa on Valencia
995 Valencia (@ 21 St)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 642-3672

It took a long time for me to come around on South Indian food. It was one of those things that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to growing up – most cuisine where I grew up, of the South Asian variety, was usually Northern Indian, or Pakistani. Then, even when given the opportunity to be exposed to food from Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and other South Indian cultures, I eschewed them for more meat-based cuisines. I was, after all, an unapologetic carnivore. Vegetarian food was to be avoided at all costs!

Times change, as thankfully have my opinions. Once I managed to try South Indian food, i was hooked. Fantastic flavours with lots of balance, heat, and texture. Even though they do have meat dishes, for the most part, I usually stick with the vegetarian. And of all the South Indian vegetarian dishes, my favorite is the Dosa.

The namesake restaurant, Dosa on Valencia (used to distinguish from their new outpost on Filmore), is one of several South Indian restaurants that have cropped up in The Mission over the past few years. Serving a wide variety of South Indian dishes, they don’t represent one specific cuisine, but a broad representation of many cuisines from South India.

The restaurant itself is actually fairly intriguing. They have been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand three of four years they’ve been in business – Michelin’s award for good value. The decor is upscale casual, and they have an interesting and diverse beverage menu – not your average South Indian eatery.

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Masalaz – Edmonton, AB


Masalaz Restaurant
4218 – 66 Street
Edmonton, AB
(780) 484 – 0582

Hidden out of view from 66 Street, just a short distance south of Whitemud, is a fantastic restaurant serving both South Indian and Caribbean dishes.  Curious as to what sparked the mixed menu – our server explained that many of the original Caribbean items stayed on the menu when the new owners took over.

With heavy Indian influence in Caribbean cuisine, many of the spices are similar but we were told that their Caribbean menu items differ mostly by the use of potatoes in the curries, and the use of cinnamon and cardamom in the spice mix.

masalaz_exterior

The signage out front was highlighting the dosa, which is a rice flour crepe, and the idli pictured below as the white coloured, steamed cake of lentils and rice.  Served with a bowl of sambar (vegetable stew), and a small dish of coconut chutney.  I have made the trek to this restaurant just for this dish alone.

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House of Dosas – Vancouver, BC


House of Dosas
1391 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 875 1283

I must openly admit something before I begin. Two separate trips that I’ve taken to the amazing country of India in the past fifteen months has ruined me for good when it comes to Indian cuisine served in North America.  It’s not to say that its not good here at times, its just that the overwhelming eating experiences I had in the Motherland were simply unforgettable and gave me a deeper appreciation of the food of that diverse country – although I am still nowhere close to being called an expert.  To top it off, India was always one of the countries I’ve long wished to see for myself, and I think the awe and shock of that total immersion just filled me with positive (and perhaps unrealistic by Canadian standards) impressions and memories that will forever affect the way I look at Indian food.

The House of Dosas is located in an easily recognizable space, in a one-story building on the corner of Kingsway and Knight Street.  With large inviting windows with minimal coverings, you can’t help but notice it when driving by, especially when stopped at the lights of that intersection.  A friend of mine had mentioned that she had seen it and said we must make a visit one day, and as luck would have it, a group of us were up for an impromptu weekday dinner gathering.  I was just hoping the dosas would be as great as the ones I had for my daily breakfast this past spring in Trivandrum, located on the southern tip of India.

Immediately upon entering, things got a little confusing as a pair of young men were standing by the front bar, dressed in regular t-shirts and jeans.  I wasn’t exactly sure if they were just customers waiting for some service or if they were the service – which was made all the more difficult as they seemed to be engrossed in the cricket match playing on one of the hanging LCD screens.  After an awkward pause or two, and an attempt to understand the situation through simple eye contact with one of them, we were put at ease as he identified himself as someone who could seat us for our table of four.  Overall, the space is quite open, and feels like it could be home to your regular run-of-the-mill neighborhood pub, with its bar, ample square tables and a fore mentioned television screens.

We decided to share a few items, of various spice levels, to allow us each to get sample of the offerings here.  The Lamb Curry (Korma) was ordered, medium on the heat meter.  This came with a heaping of steamed rice, a slice of hot naan bread, a yogurt dipping sauce and several thin wafer pappadums.  Now I know many people have their own sensitivity levels to spicy food, I’d say I’m more of the middle-of-the-road when it comes to how much I can handle.  For me, I could feel the heat in the curry, and needed some breaks of water and yogurt in between bites to cool things down, but on the taste side of things it was rich and creamy smooth.  Ample pieces of tender lamb (with none of its gamey-ness retained) were submerged in the mixture, with each of us getting enough of the meat in our individual spoonfuls.

Seafood Dosa was a popular variety I had in Kerala.  Probably due to its close proximity to the sea.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the menu here.  The way it was presented in its long cylinder shape, drew looks from everyone in the room, no doubt many of them anxiously awaiting theirs to be delivered.  Once cut up into segments, you could get a better sense of the filling (or lack there of).  We cut ours up into four even sections, but in actuality only the middle two had any internal substance.  This was somewhat disappointing, as we had to spread some of the korma to prevent the rice/lentil crêpe from going to waste.  Frankly, I wasn’t so overwhelmed with this dish in terms of the flavor.   Lastly, I loved how this was served on a flat green plate, remincent of the large plantain leaves that some food is served on in Southern India.

Beef Curry with mild spice was another dish we tried (and that I managed to capture an image of), and it was clear there was a dramatic dropoff in heat between the medium and the mild.  The beef seemed a lot more ordinary to me compared to the lamb – I think it was both the spiciness as well as the type of protein itself.

All around us was an interesting mix of diners.  Upon seeing some Indian families at the tables, with the older women attired in those beautiful saris, I got the sense that the House of Dosas has the seal of approval from the local Indo-Canadian community.  I found it interesting though, that most of them were not going for the dosas.  A younger Indian couple dragging in large luggage bags with airline tags still on the handles were sitting next to us and devouring some plates of curry.  I got the sense they were craving some Indian food having been on a plane all day.

If I were to make a repeat visit, I’d probably give another dosa variant a try, but likely in the end return for another bowl of the delicious korma.  Or better yet, hold out for another trip to India itself.

House of Dosa on Urbanspoon

Southern Spice – Calgary, AB


Southern Spice
102, 4655, 54th Avenue NE
(Corner of 54 Ave and Castleridge Blvd)
Calgary, AB  T3J 3Z4
Open 7 days a weekSouthern Spice on Urbanspoon

September 2008 re-visit post here

Original post below:

When Anapurna shut their doors for renovations, Dosa lovers all around Calgary lamented the fact that there was a distinct lack of South Indian food available in Calgary. Vegetarians especially, lamented the loss of a tasty option. While places like MySore Palace offered some South Indian dishes, “nobody did it like Anapurna”. Once Anapurna re-opened to tepid reviews and outright disappointment,  South Indian became a cuisine of the past in Calgary.  Something that would likely fade slowly from the public consciousness.

One afternoon, I found myself in the nether regions of the NE – searching for a bakery i’d heard about that baked fresh Kabuli Naan – an Afghani specialty. While the NE areas of Castleridge and Falconridge are renown for their Indian food, there are a variety of gastronomical treats and treasures among its many warehouses and strip-malls. From streets that wind in a nonsensical manner, to a street-naming convention that fails to follow Calgary’s grid system, most “non-locals” have difficulty navigating the streets. In fact, even with a possible address and some sparse directions, i still found myself turned around and lost.

Signage - Southern Spice Weaving in and out of neighbourhoods, I happened across a warehouse complex that, theoretically, should have been the location of my bakery. However, what was there, instead, was a small portable sign stating “Southern Spice – under new management”. A restaurant focusing on South Indian Cuisine.  Hungry, and lamenting the loss of something resembling a good dosa, i decided to give it a try.

The space itself is clean and tidy. At 1:30pm on a Tuesday, it was empty, with the exception of one server, and a table occupied by a couple quietly talking over a hyderabaad biryani. The finishings were simple – this would not be confused with the Taj Mahal stylings of Nirvana just down the street, but in most places, clean is already luxury enough.

I was given a menu to peruse. At first glance, it seemed like an extensive menu – primarily Chettinad Cuisine, but there were some Andhra-based dishes as well. I guess this is what they meant by “multi-cuisine” in the restaurant title. Prices were like a timewarp; pre-inflationary Calgary prices that made me giddy like a school girl. Dosas from $5.95 to $8.95, Thali from $10.95 – $12.95, and lassi for $2.95. If the quality was good, they had a convert.  Service was patient, friendly and cooly efficient – a refreshing change.

I ordered a simple Madras Masala Dosa ($6.95) and an order of Appalam ($1.95). 2 minutes later, piping hot appalam came out, with a slick coating of grease, fresh from the fryer. They were crispy, and fragrant, and i was starving, so they were gone in 60 seconds. For the price, they were good. Madras Masala Dosa

5 minutes after that, a humongous, crisp, fresh dosa was brought out. Served with Sambar and assorted Chutney’s, the platter took up half the table. I immediately tore into dosa, at first biting into crisp, fresh “crepe” – made of lentils and rice flour. Next, i happened upon the well-seasoned filling: potato curry, and madras masala. It was warm, well spiced, and tasted great. Combined with a great Sambar, and two chutneys (one tomato, one coconut, the tomato one rocks) this was a truly satisfying experience. The flavours were authentic – the food served piping hot – and the value indisputable. I would even go so far as to say this is better than Anapurna was before they closed for renovations. This is a classically good South Indian Restaurant.

In a day and age where complaints regarding food, service, and quality are commonplace, Southern Spice stands out for me as a bastion of excellent ethnic food. They provide honest food with authentic flavours, and do so at a price that begs you to run, not walk, to the maze that is Castleridge to try them out.

Update:

I have since been back to Southern Spice several times. Some relevant pieces of information that may be of interest to you: Wednesdays is Madras Masala Dosa day – $5. They are not busy at lunch, but i’ve been informed they are busy in the evenings. They have a buffet on weekends. Their Idly are very good – soft, tender, with a great tang. The chicken dosa was average (what was i thinking!?), their lamb dishes was excellently spiced, tender, and well prepared. Food has always been delivered quickly, efficiently. There has been no drop off in quality in subsequent visits. This is worth your time.

Southern Spice on Urbanspoon