Before the French invented crepes, Indians were devouring their own version – a 2,000-year-old Sangam era dosa that was crispy, fragrant and bursting with flavour.
There are many stories surrounding the first dosa. Some say it originated in the city of Udupi in Karnataka, India, where a Brahmin adiga (cook) was trying to find a way to ferment his rice. He wasn’t happy with the results, so decided to just pour it out into a pan instead of wasting it. It resulted in an elegantly thin, crispy dosa, and south India never looked back.
The dish is so beloved, the Telegu community even has a festival around it, called Attla Daddi (their version of the dosa is called attu, so the festival’s name translates to ‘attu eating festival’).
While the modern dosa is usually paper thin and a beautiful brown in colour, the ancient Tamils had a recipe for a 2,000-year-old version of the dish, called ‘ilanth osai’. Their dosa was pure white in colour, silky soft, and as gossamer-thin as a silken handkerchief, in texture. Even today, expert cooks sometimes have trouble mastering the dish!
Another interesting story in the evolution of the dosa comes from Mysore, India. One day, the Maharaja of Mysore threw a lavish party for his guests. At the end of it, he was told by his staff that a lot of the food had been left over. Not wanting it to go to waste, the king encouraged his cooks to think creatively, and come up with a solution to the potential food waste issue at hand. The Maharaja’s kitchen staff delivered – they had plenty of plain dosas left, so they stuffed them with potatoes and created another south Indian favourite: the masala dosa.