We went looking for the zingy Mysore Masala in the city of its birth and came back with more than just a full belly.
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The beautiful city of Mysore has lent its name to more brands than any other in India. There is the flagship Mysore silk and fragrant Mysore sandal beauty products that are a traditional favourite, as well as Mysore Pak, a sweet that was created in the royal kitchens of the Wodeyars. But the most popular export remains Mysore Masala Dosa—a fiery variant of the masala dosa, with red chutney smeared over the crispy Indian crepe—a version that has found a place on the menu of most South Indian restaurants.

For first-timers digging into the belly of the dosa for the familiar potato filling, the flaming red chutney smeared on the inside comes as a zingy surprise, unless peptic ulcers have forbidden you that extra shot of spice. But it is this very red, chilli-garlic paste smeared inside the dosa that makes the Mysore Masala Dosa truly special. For newbie dosa lovers, like British yoga student Laura Farrier, the sizzle on her tongue came as a bolt from the blue. She was visiting Mysore after a stint in Kerala that she’d spent on a regular diet of Masala Dosas. “When I asked them what the red chilli paste was doing on my dosa, they told me it was the special Mysore Masala Dosa!!!”

Mysorean Anu Ganesh, who runs Anu’s cafe in Gokulam area of the city, recalls her earlier stint with this delicacy. “The Mysore masala dosa is special because 50 years ago, in our times, the local restaurants made a red chutney with chillies and garlic that they applied on the thickly poured dosa, then fixed the potato palya (the potato filling, which had more onion in it than potato) inside and simply folded it in half.”

Twist in the Tale

Here in Mysore, dosa comes with just chutney and no sambar, unlike in other south Indian towns and cities. This chutney has roasted chana, ground with coconut. “Sambar did not accompany the Mysore Masala Dosa until the Kamat restaurants came into the scene with their crispy paper thin dosas dripping with vegetable lard,” adds Ganesh.

Another distinct quality of the Mysore Masala Dosa is that it is crispy on the outside and spongy inside. While you will find dosas in all shades of brown—starting with off-white to light brown and dark brown—in other parts of south India, Mysore Masala Dosa comes with a standard shade of dark brown. Then again, the dosas in South Karnataka are crispier, and have a subtle sweetness unlike those in Kerala or Tamil Nadu, where the hint of sourness of the batter is conspicuous, and the crepes are a tad flaccid. Some seasoned home cooks believe that the restaurants in Mysore add grains of sugar to the batter for the brown colour and the signature crispiness, though this claim couldn’t be verified. The potato that goes into the ‘masala’ is boiled to a buttery consistency and mashed with a generous helping of onion, and other ingredients. After placing the masala neatly in the centre of the dosa, it is folded in half and not rolled, as you’ll find in most places outside Mysore.

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Having said that, how did the Mysore Masala Dosa travel out of this town, to place itself firmly as a much-loved staple on the South Indian menu across India? Mysoreans attribute this to some of the popular restaurant chains, like Kamat, which featured it on the menu in the capital city of Bengaluru, and from here it seems to have travelled to other destinations, from Mumbai to Delhi and other prominent cities and towns, earning a colourful and fiery reputation along the way. Sachin S. of Royal Mysore Walks that conducts heritage walking tours of the city, says that the Mysore Masala Dosa stood out owing to its distinct South Karnataka flavours. “If you go to Udupi along coastal Karnataka, the masala dosa looks and tastes completely different,” he says.

Then again, within the city are two variants. “In the first type, common to all of south Karnataka, the dosa is smaller yet thicker, and has the standard potato-onion masala inside. GTR (Gayathri Tiffin Room) has one of the better versions of this dosa here in Mysore. The second type, unique to Mysore city, have mix-veg saagu (thick curry) as the filling. Mylari is famous for this variety,” says Mysorean Krishna MV.

So, where should you head to sample the authentic Mysore Masala Dosa? Mylari with its two outlets (run by brothers) in Nazarbad is the most famous dosa joint in Mysore. Started by a family, they make a signature batter, the recipe for which is a closely guarded family secret. It opens early in the morning and closes when the batter is over, which is often quick. Apart from Mylari, there are other iconic restaurants that serve the masala dosa are Gayatri Tiffin Room or GTR and Hotel Dasaprakash. Mysoreans also recommend Ramya Hotel in Hinkal and Guru Hotel in Nazarbad. Another option is the Dosa Point which has branches at various places in Mysore. But try the one on Sayyaji Rao Road.

And if you’ve found a Mysore Masala Dosa that you’d like to go back to, in your city, leave us a comment!

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

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