You will not get a better dosa for 4 dollars than at the cafeteria in the basement of the Hindu temple in Flushing, in New York City. Incongruous in the heart of Flushing, are the meticulously worked domes of a South Indian temple and a complex that contains a first rate auditorium and a fantastic cafeteria specializing in South Indian fast food. This is what I had been looking for all along—my Komala Vilas clone from Kolkata, a busy place bustling with customers on bare, laminated tables in a sparse room bereft of formulated décor.
It was my first visit to the temple. It was also the first time that I have had a meal wearing traditional dhoti and kurta, dressed as a I was, for an evening drama performance as part of a suburban Bengali theater group making its first foray into the city. Indeed the food was so good, that post-drama, we dropped by for a second meal. Most of the visitors to this cafeteria are South Asians, many of them devotees at the temple. While there are a few non Asians scattered about the tables, the place seems to have gone largely unnoticed by foodies.
We had dosas and vadas at the temple, along with South Indian coffee at very, very reasonable prices. The coffee was weak and milky, but the place sells a variety of dosas: Hyderabadi chili masala dosa for the brave, to the proletarian plain dosa with either the normal skin or a “paper” skin, where the batter is spread out extra thin on the flat frying surface, so that it crisps out like a giant fan akin to the fin of a huge, starched turban. It is large enough that it needs to be supported by two plates. These dosas are the real thing—not oily, nor over crisp, and the accompanying sambar dip is just as it should be: a subdued, polished presence that elegantly completes and extracts the splendor of the gaudy dosa without upstaging it, like the male counterpart in a tango duo. I have searched for the perfect dosa often, receiving ephemeral glimpses of it on occasion, on a whimsical day when the stars lined with the chef’s manipulations at places like Saravanas in Manhattan, only to be disappointed by an oily, potato chip texture like mess when I revisited. The dosas at the temple met their mark this time, this was like the South Indian restaurants in the Kolkata of my youth, replete with the sales lady speaking a perfect Bengali with a fluid South Indian accent.