An Air Warrior remembers how he met his first dosa in Coimbatore and fell in love forever
My favourite South Indian food is the dosa, and the first time I had it was at the Bombay Anand Bhavan at Big Bazaar Street whilst training as a cadet at Air Force Administrative College (AFAC) here in the mid 50s. For two months after we arrived we were incarcerated within the campus. The reason given was that our ‘walking out’ dress (a cement grey “bandh gala”) was being tailored, and we were yet to learn how to conduct ourselves in civvie street. Personally, I think it was because of the haircuts Gowri the barber had given us on arrival, that needed restoration!
But back to my dosa. Hungry as horses after a couple of months of physical exertion and hours of study, our first outing saw us homing onto the few restaurants there were. Our seniors had pointed us to one of them, Bombay Anand Bhavan. I ordered a “butter masala dosa”. As I tucked into the delectably crisp dosa, I found there was lots to learn about this delicacy as I gingerly removed a bit of banana leaf from my mouth. My seniors had neglected to mention that the leaf held butter inside and I was supposed to eat around the package that acted like a slow release aspirin gradually letting the butter into the hot dosa. But we learnt quickly and soon graduated to ordering onion, rava, ghee roast and even experimented with the six foot dosa. Sadly, our growing appetite for the dosa came to a sudden halt with our commissioning and posting from Coimbatore to various Air Force units in India.
I was posted to Air Force Station Agra where I discovered Laxmi Villas that served fairly passable dosas.
I was to spend nearly 16 years there and besides parachuting, I also jumped into matrimony. My wife turned out to be a super cook, but being a Bengali from the Punjab, dosas were beyond her. But she soon learned how from her South Indian friends and had perfected the art by the time we were luckily posted back to AFAC Coimbatore. We went on to acquire a mixie, a stone grinder and a table top electrical one which were needed with the addition of two growing dosa-addict sons. When I retired near 25 years ago from AFAC again, Coimbatore had virtually become home in more ways than one and it was no surprise we settled here.
We have had many friends and relatives visiting ups and they have all relished the rich and varied varieties of dosas on offer at Coimbatore. They have equally enjoyed the crisp and hot dosas I make at home and even marvel at the many shapes my dosas can take. Of course I don’t let onto the secret that the “maavu” is from Pazahmudir as the stone and table top have long been given away.
Wanting to know more about the dosa, I surfed the net and found there were a hundred and more varieties. I also discovered that it was generally agreed that the dosa originated in the temple streets of Udipi in the 1st Century AD, but there is also mention of it in Tamil Sangam Literature – by far the oldest body of significant literature on South India. Confused, I decided to leave research to scholars, and concentrate on eating it.