Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hats Off to the Dosa Man

I first saw the Dosa Man in 2005, when Adeet and I were visiting New York from Chicago. As we walked through Washington Square Park, we passed a cart advertising "NY Dosas." We didn't stop, but after we moved to New York, I began hearing tales of Thiru Kumar, or the "Dosa Man." He's the 2007 winner of the Vendy Award and frequently makes "Best of NYC" food lists.

Dosas are often described as South Indian crepes. They're crispier than French crepes and made with rice or lentil flour. They can be filled with potatoes and vegetables, served slick with ghee, or eaten plain.

One evening this April, Adeet and I discussed dinner options as we walked to the grocery store. "Why not try the Dosa Man?" I suggested, not in the mood for shopping, cooking, and washing up. We headed to Washington Square Park but didn't see the cart. We walked around the park, through the park, and around one more time. No Dosa Man. We stayed and played Scrabble on our laptop before getting falafel and going home. A pleasant evening, but no dosa.

After a little research, we found the Dosa Man's phone number online. What is the Internet for, if not to help feed our insatiable appetites? Adeet called and the Dosa Man answered, apologizing for any inconvenience his absence had caused us. He said he was working on a project for the city and would return in May.

We waited patiently, tiding ourselves over with soup dumplings and samosas, tacos and gyros. When we rented a car in June to drive upstate, we detoured through Manhattan just for the Dosa Man. Stuck in traffic, we consoled ourselves with the thought of an award-winning South Indian lunch. When we made it to the park, we chided ourselves for not phoning first. No Dosa Man.

Another month passed, until we decided this would be our week. We discussed whether we should order masala (filled) dosa or sada (plain) dosa. Our menu planning turned out to be premature. Adeet called and the Dosa Man apologized again; this time his cart needed some maintenance. "Please try again tomorrow." Adeet called the next day, and this time the Dosa Man assured him he was there.

Adeet and I planned to meet in front of the dosa cart, and as I left work, I could almost taste the masala. I hailed a cab and just as I opened the taxi door, my hat flew off. My new, very fetching, chartreuse summer hat. Did I mention it was new? As it blew down Broadway, I dodged oncoming traffic, hoping I'd get my hat and make it to the Dosa Man alive. It tumbled under a delivery truck, eventually landing on the sidewalk. I snatched my hat before a crush of tourists unwittingly trampled it. I ran back to the street, and found the cab still waiting for me, the door ajar. The flustered driver said, "I didn't know what happened. First I had a passenger. Then I didn't." The hat drama proved so distracting, he didn't start the meter for several blocks.

I found Adeet and a line of customers waiting by the cart. The celebrated Mr. Kumar was flanked by two assistants, who took drink orders and promoted Dosa Man T-shirts. When it was our turn, the Dosa Man recommended the Pondicherry dosa, "the most famous one." I agreed to try it, but Adeet ordered a sada dosa. When the Dosa Man handed us our lunch, I felt as if we had just won a prize.

My Pondicherry dosa was filled with spiced potatoes, red peppers, and mixed salad. The salad balanced the potato filling, keeping it from feeling heavy. Adeet's sada dosa was light by nature, having no filling. The dosas were golden brown and crispy, and the sambar (curry) had a pleasant kick. But when we dipped into the chutney, the Dosa Man won our stomachs. It was thick and creamy, with a subtle coconut taste. We greedily scooped it up with our dosas. When our crepes were gone, we put spoons and fingers to work.

I had worried that the dosa might not meet my hopes and expectations. I shouldn't have. Next time, though, I'm asking for extra chutney. And I'm holding onto my hat.

The Dosa Man
Washington Square Park
West 4th St. & Sullivan St. • NY, NY

photos by Adeet Deshmukh

1 comment:

Adam is aware of all internet traditions said...

Now that's a thrilling tale of misfortune, perseverance, and victory.

Will you be played by Julianne Moore in the film?