The trouble with travel guidebooks is that you rarely get to see the restaurant before you turn up at it, hungry, dusty, and a tad sweaty.
This was true of my first visit to Hotel Badshah, lit by its neon signs, and sat opposite the perpetually crowded Crawford Market.
However, this remains a classic tale of the “never judge a book by its cover” variety (and in retrospect, I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with this cover anyway). But on that surprisingly warm day in January 2013 I was still adjusting to the sights and sounds of Mumbai, and a restaurant that called itself a hotel with no immediately obvious rooms, certainly made me uncertain as to whether the best meal of my life awaited me, or a profound disappointment.
Thankfully, the former. Up until that glorious moment I had never experienced a dosa, and what a waste those years had been! Southern Indian food has become a particular favourite of mine, with its emphasis on fresh and fruity flavours, accompanied by tangy chutneys and spices that will add to your already glistening brow; and the humble dosa – traditionally made from a fermented rice batter – is the perfect example of the cuisine. Only in India could a meal remain humble, filling, and geometrically beguiling all at the same time.
My first dosa: the cutlery was quickly discarded...
For those not in the know, as I used to be, a dosa is in essence a crispy pancake, often served with a coconut and potato filling, and accompanied by a tomato-based sambar and other chutneys and dips. As far as I’m concerned you can, and indeed should, eat this at all times of the day; delighting in the different textures and inevitable mess you’ll get your hands in.
Since that first encounter with the delectable dosa, I have even tried my hand at making my own – with mixed success… However, if you’re not based anywhere near where you can sample the real deal in the land of its connoisseurs (and you don’t fancy risking creating your own), then do ask your local Southern Indian restaurant if it’s one of their specialities. If you’re in London, then head to Sagar on Percy Street (closest Tube station: Tottenham Court Road or Goodge Street) or Navaratna in South Croydon – both create delicious dosas. Although they’re of course more expensive than what you’ll find in India, the price remains reasonable and they are two of the best I’ve had outside of Mumbai.
The dosa, in my opinion, is not only a lesson in humility, but also the delights of simplicity meeting creativity.
Back to Hotel Badshah in 2016 for round 2...