A big dose of dosa

Everything’s nice at Southern Spice

The unassuming Westwinds Business Park off McKnight Blvd. N.E. in Falconridge is home to Southern Spice one of the city’s few restaurants serving Southern Indian dishes (and it claims to be the only authentic South-Indian restaurant in the city). This regional style tends to have less spice than Northern Indian food and is characterized by ingredients such as coconut.

Largely vegetarian the menu is 90 per cent meat-free. The buffet is a permanent fixture — weekday lunch ($10.95) all-day weekend ($15.95) and Friday evening mugal biryani ($12.95). However the place is really known for its dosas. These large flat pancakes are a South-Indian staple served with various fillings and sauces.

On the first of two recent visits I drank salty-sweet lime juice ($2.25). An acquired taste I finished half my citrus brine while my wife happily sipped an entire glass.

We ordered the amma special ($10.95) and appa special ($12.95) as these sampler meals each include a different type of dosa. My wife ordered the amma which means “mama” while I ordered the appa or “papa.” This reminded me of an old standup gag: Gender rolls! Get ’em while they’re hot! Which they were.

Both meals were served on white trays. The loosely rolled dosas easily more than a foot wide stuck out over both sides. Under each was an assortment of items including vada a lightly spiced deep-fried rice and flour doughnut. Golden brown it had the consistency of thick sugar-free cake.

The plates also included idly a round steamed rice- and lentil-flower cake that was pillowy soft and steamy with a hint of sweetness. And in case one pancake wasn’t enough there was utthapam a savoury type containing grilled onion and cabbage.

Both platters featured four compartments one containing chopped cabbage and carrot two containing chutney for dipping and one cradling a small bowl of veggie stew. The only difference between the two meals was the potato masala filling in the appa dosa.

Our meal was an exercise in contrasting dough. The fluffy dosa was a winner on its own but all the components were great with the mild creamy coconut and tomato chutneys. We also dipped them in the thick vegetable stew or sambar of split pea ( toor daal ) onion and various spices. Tearing chunks from each we savoured every mouthful.

Next day over the phone owner Beaula David tells me her dosa secret is making them from scratch rather than a ready-made mix — a labour-intensive process. Comprised of rice flour and lentils or urdu daal its components are soaked ground and soaked again. This gives the dosa its light quality David explains.

Keen to try the restaurant’s meat dishes I later returned for lunch starting with Sri Lankan beef rolls ($5.95) one of Southern Spice’s spiciest dishes. The deep-fried pastry was expertly cooked with a thin crisp outer layer. Chopped into bite-sized pieces it contained potato onion and green chilies though I was surprised to bite into juicy strips of mutton rather than beef.

The meat and veggie filling flavoured with coriander chili powder and cumin was excellent. A quick dip in dark chutney sauce gave the rolls a bright bite of heat.

To follow kothu paratha ($9.95) was made with egg and potato and served with a choice of chicken vegetable or mutton. I chose mutton thinking my appetizer would contain beef.

Paratha another homemade bread was cut into pieces and quickly pan-fried with onion spices and a measured amount of chopped mutton flavoured with garlic and ginger. Another mild carb-a-licious dish I dipped forkfuls in yogurt sauce called raitha made with diced onion and cilantro. The cool mild dip played the summer cloud to the warm slightly spicy island sunrise of meat and bread.

Over the course of two meals I also sampled payasam ($3.95) a thin coconut milk pudding and gulab jamun ($4.95) a dessert standard of fried milk balls in sweet syrup. While I found the gulab jamun a bit plain the hot creamy payasam was intensely delicious.

Finishing with milky lip-smacking madras coffee ($3.75) I ponder the city’s Indian restaurant scene. This isn’t the only dosa place in town but it’s got the dish down cold. Though I can’t vouch for its Southern Indian authenticity its milder dishes are both locally unique and delectable.