Dubai: A dosa or crepe made with water. You heard it right. Neer dosa is a popular delicacy made with uncooked rice batter and water from the Indian Southern coastal state of Karnataka, specifically from the port city of Mangalore, nestled between the Arabian Sea to its east and lush green mountains running across India’s western coastline - the Western Ghats.
The word neer means water in Tullu, the regional language of Southern Karnataka, and dosa or dosai are crispy rice-lentil crepes, which you might have come across at Indian restaurants in the UAE. While these crispy, golden-brown paper-like dosas have shot to fame as popular street food across the globe, they are also quite easy to make. All you need is a rice-lentil batter and a hot griddle to spread it over. Typically, they are served with coconut chutney and spiced lentil curry called sambar.
Neer dosas, on the other hand, do not use lentils in the batter, giving it a thin, white, lace-like appearance. Also, they are often accompanied with some non-vegetarian options, like chicken or fish curry, or a coconut chutney.
History of dosas
The origin of dosas is debatable. Documented history is divided between two views. On the one hand, according to Indian Food Scientist and Historian K.T. Achaya's book – The story of our food, dosas were said to have originated in the first century AD in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, another famous Indian historian, Parameswaran Thankappan Nair, in his book - South Indians in Kolkata, mentions that dosa was first made in Karnataka, in a town named Udipi.
When it comes to Neer dosas, many also believe that they originated during the Hindu fasting month, also known as chaaturmasa vrata, when many communities do not consume certain food groups, such as protein-rich lentils and leafy vegetables. Since neer dosas do not use lentils in their preparation, unlike regular dosas, this season could have possibly led to the origin of these thin rice crepes.
Neer dosa loyalists in the UAE
They might not be as popular as the rice-lentil versions, but neer dosas have a dedicated and loyal fan following.
Suman Bhagath, a Dubai-based Indian expatriate from Mangalore, India, said: "I am a Mangalore girl and neer dosa happens to be one of the region's traditional foods. I find them to be delicious and easy to prepare and often prepare them once a month. I grew up eating this, and my mother would prepare it often, and she still does."
And Bhagath is not alone. Far away from home, neer dosa lovers try to recreate the magic of this savoury crepe by making it at home for their loved ones, just like how their mothers did.
Sowbhagya Ajith, a Sharjah-based Indian expatriate and native of Shimoga, a quaint, hilly region in Karnataka, said: "I make neer dosa for breakfast and also pack it for lunch, and take it to office. My husband and daughter love them, too. I personally like them, because, unlike other lentil-based dosas, they are light and easy to digest."
Since Mangalore is a port city, seafood is a popular food choice, and these white lacy crepes are, therefore, often paired with spicy and tangy seafood curries. They taste delicious because they soak in the gravy and make an excellent combination, balancing the taste.
Neer dosas are easy to prepare, having a quick turnaround time … quite literally. The rice needs to be soaked till it softens and then ground into the required consistency of the batter.
Ajith added: "When I was a kid, neer dosa would only be made every Sunday as a special breakfast dish by my mother. I liked it so much that I would keep asking for more. My mother often prepared large batches for my brother and me, because like most siblings, we would end up fighting over our favourite food, which still happens to be neer dosa."
An acquired taste and a food tale
Akhil Kochunanu Babu, an Indian expatriate based in Ajman, is from Kerala but grew up in the lush coffee-growing town of Coorg in Karnataka. Speaking to Gulf News, he recalled a fond memory of neer dosa.
"When I was around eight years old, a new family had moved into our neighbourhood, and as is customary, they came over to introduce themselves. The aunty had brought with her neer dosas, chutney and chicken curry. It was so tasty that I ended up eating seven to eight."
He also mentioned that one needs to eat at least 4 to 5 neer dosas to feel full. Babu said: “As a student, I spent time in Mangalore and found out that neer dosa was a popular street food, especially among students, who are often on a tight budget."
A plate of neer dosa, four in number, back in 2016 cost him as little as Rs10 (around 50fils).
This easy to prepare dish needs little time to be cooked, and the only thing one needs to keep in mind is to soak the rice in water. Here is a recipe by Sowbhagya Ajith to making neer dosa at home:
1 cup rice, soaked for 3 to 4 hours
½ cup coconut, sliced and made into a paste, optional
1 tsp salt
3 cups of water (*some people combine it with coconut water)
1. First, soak 1 cup of rice for 3 to 4 hours in water. Drain the excess water and transfer it into a blender with the coconut. The coconut gives a nutty flavour.
2. Blend to make a smooth paste, do not add a lot of water at this point.
3. Then add 1 teaspoon salt, 3 cups water and mix well to make it into a thin water-like consistency.
4. Then, heat a griddle or dosa tawa and pour the batter on it. Spread in a circular motion using a ladle and allow it to cook. Usually the crepe is a bit like lace, with gaps, as the batter is thin.
5. Cook it for 1 minute, do not overcook. You also do not need to turn over and cook the other side.
6. Once the edges begin to curl up, remove it from the griddle.
Serve warm with coconut chutney, chicken or fish curry. You could even fuse cultures and try it with some kimchi!
Share your recipes and favourite foods with us on email@example.com