Paper masala dosa

Paper masala dosa: crisp and light as air, except for it's full middle.
Paper masala dosa: crisp and light as air, except for it’s full middle.

Why did we order two?

Paper masala dosa is one of my favorite meals. I order them at every opportunity when I’m in India, Singapore, or Dubai. It was a restaurant in Phoenix, though, where I was served the biggest one I’d ever seen.

Dosas are hard to find in the U.S., but I discovered Udupi in Phoenix, where they serve 17 kinds. 16 kinds I don’t care about. It’s paper masala dosa, every time. I dream of its shiny mahogany surface complete with streaky tracks from the dosa-maker’s spatula, the intoxicating fragrance of ghee, and the traditional accompaniments. I like the drama of its arrival, even when it isn’t this gargantuan; even when I fetch it from the grill myself. And I like the eat-it-while-it’s-hot urgency, even though it’s impossible to eat it while it’s hot.

Paper masala dosa

Paper dosa is a thin, crisp pancake made from a fermented batter of rice and lentil flour. They’re always large, but I’ve never before come across the three-foot long version. Then again, I’ve never before been to Udupi—the restaurant, or the city in southern India.

A giant version of the paper dosa, with its three little bowls of accompaniments.
A giant version of the paper dosa, with its three little bowls of accompaniments.

A paper dosa always comes with a little bowl of sambar (a thin tomatoey broth) and two fresh chutneys. Indian chutneys are not the sweet-hot preserved fruit bits in jars, as sold in U.S grocery stores. Those are “pickles.” Chutneys are fresh. With a paper dosa, you get one of ground coconut mixed with chilies and fresh green coriander or mint leaves, and one other, complimentary chutney (the kind varies).

If you order paper masala dosa, your dosa is rolled around a ladle of potato-onion curry, and the meal becomes hearty. They are always too much for me, but this one was amusing in its hugeness. It was no joke, though.

Paper masala dosa
The paper dosa is cooked on only one side, with ghee (clarified butter). A hidden surprise of potato curry lies within.

Indian restaurants are everywhere now; unfortunately, they all seem to have the same predictable menus: butter chicken, chicken tikka, lamb korma, beef vindaloo, aloo gobi… They’re all north Indian restaurants and they all must use the same boring, failsafe recipes. If you’ve never had the cuisine of south India, it’s worth seeking out. You’ll get dosas (maybe 17 kinds!), other unfamiliar crepes, pancakes, and “donuts,” and dishes rich with coconut and chilies.

Udupi Cafe
1636 N Scottsdale Road
…¨Tempe, AZ 85281 …¨
Phone: 480-994 8787

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  • Exactly: you break off pieces and dip them in the sambar and/or chutneys, and fold it around some potato curry for variety. Oh… delicious!

    Bhel puri is another matter. If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll write about that Bombay snack another time. I have great photos of the artistic displays of “bhel puriwallas” on the streets of Bombay.

  • Ok, so I can see three people holding for you as you open wide…no really, how the heck do you eat that thing? Do you break off pieces and dip?
    Also, I’d love instructions on eating delicious bel puri (if I spelled it correctly.)

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