Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dosing Up With Dhosai in Alor Setar

How do we define thosai? It is not bread like naan or chapati; I guess the closest definition I can think of is a sort of crepe or pancake made from fermented rice batter, usually made on a gridle and hardly uses oil. It should be a healthy food.

Thosai, or Dhosai, dhosa or thoshay in Myanmar has been a staple dish in India for thousands of years. While nobody knows how many versions there are, in Malaysia, we have a few such as Ghee Thosai (thosai with ghee or clarified butter), Rava Thosai (different batter mixture with onions and chilli), Masala Thosai (thosai stuffed with vegetables such as potato), Egg Thosai, Oinion Thosai and a few more. A friend told me that, his mother used to soak rice with water and leave it overnight, before grinding them into batter the next morning. There are instant thosai batter available nowadays, but I have never tried them.

Over the years, Mamak shops in Kuala Lumpur introduced thosai into their menu, and today they made it in style. The thosai is made into a big, thin, crispy crepe which they roll into cylinder shapes before serving it in metal trays with a dallop of coconut chutney, dhal and fish curry. However, on a personal note, I find that thosai in that fashion simply refuses to absorb the chutney and breaks too easily. I still prefer the old school thosay, made in a round shape and then folded into a semi-circle, and the best accompaniment is always chutney. A few years back, I used to frequent an Indian shop in Penang where I really enjoyed the thosai with coconut chutney, tomato chutney and a green colored chutney, which I think was spinach and chilli.

One of the complaints I got from my friends in the past is the lack of Indian restaurants or food stalls in Alor Setar compared to Sungai Petani. I remembered frequenting one in Lorong Merpati (I can't remember the name) before it closed down years back. There was one Indian stall near the railway station, but many, including Indians, find the hygiene of the place questionable.

Don't get me wrong on this. There are loads of mamak restaurants and stalls in Alor Setar, but their chutney is always questionable. Their chutney is always way too watery, or diluted, and I can't stand the huge crispy thosai that either breaks up into pieces or refuses to absorb the gravy when you try to eat. We are talking about an actual Indian food stall or restaurant. There are talks that an Indian curry house will open at Kompleks Sultan Abdul Hamid, but this remains to be seen.

I was told by my uncle that he regularly eats thosai at stall down the road from his house. That surprised me as his house is located away from the road and the neighborhood is usually quiet and not much activity happens there. Anyway, I decided to try with my wife, and I guess we found our thosai place finally at Malathi's.

The location of Malathi is truly hidden away, and only those who knows visit the stall. It is located at Taman Sri Taman, inside the compound  of a house. The large area in front of the house was turned into a food stall. It is not a big place, simple yet homely. The morning menu is not luxurious:
1) Two types of thosai: plain or ghee
2) Chapati
3) Idli
4) Nasi Lemak bungkus (truly Malaysian)

We had ghee thosai, and of course, we had it with coconut chutney, which is very basic. The thosai is truly old school, with a crispy bottom and edges, while the rest is soft and fluffy. I could have sworn we were the only ones who were soaking away the chutney. The freshly made thosai, soaking the flavor of coconut, chilli and spices of the chutney, filling up hungry stomachs in the morning, simply delicious.

It was already close to 10 a.m. when we got there, so it is understandable that there were not that many people there. Most of the patrons there are Indians, a small number of Malays and even two Indian Muslims. Most of them were either enjoying thosai or chapati.

Like I mentioned earlier, the breakfast menu at Malathi's is simple and basic, but it is that simplicity and the exquisite flavors that keep bringing the patrons back for more, and that's just for breakfast, given its slightly hidden location. Next to the eating place is Modern Hair Saloon, famed for grooming the DYMM Sultanah of Kedah's hair.

Malathi's offer breakfast and lunch. Around 7 p.m., the stall is open again, serving chapati. Breakfast usually ends around 10:30 a.m. as they prepare for the lunch crowd.

To those who would like to try this simple yet delicious fare, here's how to get there:

I did go for lunch there days later, I'll expand on that in a later article.

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