A Dilemma at the Dosa Cart – NYC
Since I heard about NY Dosas (a.k.a. the Dosa Cart) in Washington Square Park five years ago, I’ve been on the hunt for the cart. For some reason or another, Thiru Kumar‘s cart has always eluded me. It was either I went the wrong day (he’s there on Saturdays, not Sundays), or the wrong time of the year (he sometimes vacations in the summer in Canada, and in the colder months he doesn’t always make it to the city). A few months ago, I was on the way home from jogging on the Williamsburg Bridge, when I happened to see a car just getting off the bridge with the dosa cart in tow. I was tempted to follow the car like a mad dog, but I was suspicious it would be another wild goose chase, so I headed home instead. I have to maintain some dignity, or at least pretend to, after all. But a month ago, I decided to chance it again, and left to the park on my lunch break, and BINGO! It was dosa time!
When I got to the cart, there was already a line, but it was a very casual affair. Everyone gives Thiru or his lovely assistant their order, and leisurely hangs out cart-side. (By the way, Thiru’s assistant mans his cell phone constantly, letting the smart people who call before coming to the park their status. She also responds to texts.) Since it was my first time and I heard it was his specialty, I ordered the Special Pondicherry Masala Dosa ($6): a lentil and rice crepe filled with spiced potatoes and vegetables. And then I waited sitting on the park rail behind the cart; enjoying the lovely weather away from the office and admiring Thiru’s expertise making the circular crepes with a flick of his wrist. Then the unthinkable happened. As Thiru was twirling one of his spatulas, it slipped from his hand and dropped on top of the piece of cardboard he was standing on. Time stopped for a moment, and I waited with bated breath to see what he would do next. I let out a sigh of relief when his young assistant quickly swooped in and grabbed the spatula and took it around the cart to somehow find means to clean it. But time was a wasting; there were dosas that needed to be folded and hungry people all around. And then to my horror, Thiru did what he had to do. He grabbed the spatula from his assistant’s hands, wiped it down with a white towel at his waist, and went back to work on his dosas. Shocked, I was conflicted, should I leave or should I go? It was a dilemma, this was literally going to be a “street dosa.” At the end, I stayed. After five years of searching, I wasn’t going to let a little dirt and bacteria get between me and my dosa. Luckily, two dosas were made before mine. My dosa was probably, ahem, only slightly dirty.
Luckily, after all the inner turmoil, the Pondicherry dosa was delicious. Since I was eating the dosa straight from the hot flat-top, the thin crepe was extremely crunchy. There was no time for the dosa to get soggy waiting for the waiter/waitress to bring the dosa to the table. I was the waitress. In addition, the crepe was light, which I believe was due to the rice flour. Inside the crepe, the slightly spicy semi-mashed potatoes were tasty, but made better by the coconut chutney that was heavy on the ginger. As for the fresh vegetables, it turned out to be a generic salad mix of lettuce, peppers, and carrots. I would have liked a more interesting medley of vegetables, but nevertheless, I enjoyed the dosa. The little cup of thin sambar, lentil and vegetable soup, which also came with the dosa was also good, if a little thin and watery.
The next day, I decided to hit up the cart again, and this time got one Roti ($2), one Samosa ($1.75), and one Swad mango drink ($1).
The samosa, since they are pre-fried, aren’t as crunchy as they could be, but was still enjoyable. The innards were the same as the dosa innards, but with the addition of peas. Overall, it was a satisfying samosa with a lot of filling and a shell that wasn’t too thick.
The roti, was again, another delivery system for potatoes. Flour-wrapped and eggroll-shaped, the roti are griddled on the flat-top instead of deep fried. Strangely, I liked the non-fried roti better than the fried samosa. The fillings somehow tasted more flavorful, although I’m sure it wasn’t much different. I think it was because the flour wrapper was more plain and wasn’t competing with the seasoned potatoes.
The two appetizers tasted even better with the mint chutney and the chili garlic sauce that came with the order. The mint chutney brought some freshness, and the tangy red sauce brought some additional heat. After a few bites, I was glad I got the mango drink. The drink, thick and sweet, smothered the small flames in my mouth.
Later that evening, I told my boyfriend the story about the spatula. He was, as I momentarily had been, grossed out. Even more so when I told him I ate the dosa and went back the next day. He shook his head and sighed, “Oh, baby,” as if in pity, but really, I felt sad for him. Because, unfortunately, he would never experience one of Thiru’s yummy dosas.
Washington Square Park
at West 4th and Sullivan Street (map)