Food Fight: Battle Masala Dosai

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

​After last week's Battle Grilled Cheese, we received a gentle prod from one of our readers and favorite local food mavens, Dr. Ricky: "I think there need to be more creative choices for the food battles. Down to grilled cheese sandwiches?"

It was with a heavy sigh and a heavy heart that we admitted to ourselves that Dr. Ricky was right. Food Fight has been taking a turn for the bland (if comforting) lately. We suddenly felt remiss and very disappointed in ourselves for neglecting the vast array of ethnic food that Houston has to offer. So much ethnic food, in fact, that making a Food Fight out of things like pad see ew, roti canai, kibbeh, xiao long bao or even just bouillabaise is relatively easy to do. So we took Dr. Ricky's first suggestion -- masala dosai -- and ran with it.

Dosai is a very typical South Indian dish that can be eaten for breakfast or dinner. Why is it so flexible? Because it's basically a giant pancake. Actually, crepe would be more accurate, as it's very thin and generally stuffed with all manner of delicious fillings. The dosai itself is made from rice and black lentils and -- as a result -- is high in protein and good carbohydrates but low in fat and cholesterol. (We mention this as, for some reason, both restaurants made sure to mention this in the dosai section on their menus.) Although you can shove whatever you want to inside a dosai, the most popular filling is masala, a mixture of potatoes and onions in a mild curry.

Sunday night we set out with Dr. Ricky and a few South Indian food connoisseurs to see who had the best dosai in Houston: Udipi or Madras Pavilion. How did the crepe crumble? The results are below...

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Udipi

This little restaurant on Hillcroft at 59 is right in the heart of Houston's Indo-Pak restaurant extravaganza. London Sizzler is right across the street, as is Himalaya and Bombay Sweets. With so many excellent choices in the area (to name only three), why choose Udipi?

To start with, it's entirely vegetarian -- as is most South Indian cuisine -- so it's an excellent choice for your vegetarian or pescetarian friends. And even better? It's very easy on the wallet. A masala dosai large enough to split with friends is only $5.25. Other menu items are well-priced, too: A very generous appetizer assortment is $6.25 and a fun-for-the-whole-table batura is only $2.49.

The masala dosai here is -- as we said -- very large. The enormous crepe is folded in half and draped over the plate, served with a side of sambar for dipping. There are plenty of crispy piece of dosai to break off and dip, but the watery sambar wasn't very appetizing and we went instead for the other chutnies that were dotting the table. And, disappointingly, for as large as the dosai was, there was hardly any potato and onion filling in it.

Not to despair for long, we busied ourselves with a creamy mango lassi and some savory idlis, and soon forgot about the dosai entirely.

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