The perfect nonsense of Jayanagar’s ice-cream dosa!
A few months ago, my husband and I woke up early on a Saturday to head to Chickpet in Bengaluru, a neighbourhood that has thrummed with commercial activity for more than 200 years. We were there for an eating tour, breakfasting our way through three styles of dosa served in the area, each one distinct in small but significant ways. All, however, had one notable commonality — none were served with sambar. Eating dosa with chutney and podi was customary for the busy, harried business owners and residents of Chickpet, and sambar wasn’t.
The evolution of food can move like molasses while racing at the speed of light. While Chickpet sticks to chutney (and sambar only on request), across Bengaluru, serving sambar alongside dosa is far more commonplace. But then make your way to Jayanagar, a residential area founded a little after Independence, to get to Amarnath Chats Ice Cream Idly Dosa. The evening traffic had started to ebb from the maddening rush hour when we visited the shop on a recent Thursday. A bright halogen light shone a pool of white around the cart on the side of the road, where a handful of customers had gathered and were holding makeshift plates of bondas, idlis and masala dosas.
But we weren’t here for just any South Indian fare. Amarnath chat picked an unusual companion for their ghee-laden dosas that’s a lot more sundae than savoury.The ice-cream dosa is something you’ll probably recognise if you spend enough time online. It’s usually mentioned in features and listicles coupled with “disgusting”, “bizarre” and other words that can be summed up by that emoji that looks like it’s about to vomit. At Amarnath, I saw the videos come to life. The dosa, while still on a hot tawa, is first slathered with three different flavours of ice-cream, followed by a few spoons of mango puree and a handful of tutti frutti scattered on top. Once folded, chocolate sauce is drizzled on the golden-brown surface and presented on a banana leaf. For Rs. 130, you get a platter of ice-cream dosa, which consists of scoops of slowly melting ice-cream — chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Rupa, who works at Amarnath, told me that they started serving ice-cream dosas about eight years ago. Though she couldn’t quite estimate the number they sell in a week, my own little survey noted that no one else was eating one while I was there. Instead, they stood around eating bondas, bhajjis and masala dosas with more traditional accompaniments.
As someone who writes about food for a living, I’ve pushed myself to look beyond my own notions of good and bad, to put aside judgment as I attempt to understand the way people eat and why.
Still, I’ll admit to being skeptical at the thought of chocolate sauce on my dosa, so let’s unpack the unbridled horror for a moment.
We love nothing more than to define ourselves by borders and boundaries, and food falls squarely within that. South Indians are often marked by the sweetness of a sambar, essence of the chutney, the fold of a dosa. But the city of Bengaluru has extended well beyond its former limits, it’s crease ironed out to a smooth canvas necessitated as new arrivals to the city have grown. New movements have stretched and expanded the city’s intrinsic culture, and migrants of all kinds have precipitated what some call a loss of urban identity. And if we add ice-cream to the roster of masala, paper and rava dosas — what have we really become?Or maybe you just think it’s gross. Or blasphemous. Or a form of torture. But to be clear, I do not. I’m pleased to report that my hesitations over the ice-cream dosa were completely unfounded. Amarnath’s owner, Manjunath has said in interviews that they started serving ice-cream dosas as a treat for their youngest diners before it caught the attention of the viral food trend machine.
The warm, crisp dosa, slightly sweetened by the sugary additions, then dipped into an assortment of ice-creams, was a joyful experience. In retrospect, I dont even know why I was worried.
Maybe because my favourite version of dosa comes loaded with butter, podi, masala potato and sambar on the side. Maybe because I need both coconut and tomato chutneys because one is always better than the other, but you never know which until you try. And maybe at some point in the distant past, these accompaniments too were considered a reckless onslaught on cuisine.
At once familiar by the paper-thin snap of a hot dosa, and cooled by layers of candied flavours, the ice-cream dosa may never make perfect sense. Fortunately, that doesn’t make it any less perfect.