South Indian Dosa Mahal
When I lived at Bloor and Lansdowne, South Indian Dosa Mahal was my haven of wholesomeness in what is often an entirely unwholesome neighbourhood. Granted, Bloordale is on the up: with the opening of several new art galleries, and the anticipated opening of a new bar from the folks behind the Communist Daughter, this neighbourhood is undergoing a revitalization that is sure to make it the new
Queen West, West Queen West, Ossington. Eventually. But while the hipsters are just arriving, this aberrant stretch of the usually upscale Bloor is still home to vast numbers of pimps, junkies and prostitutes; it sleeps fitfully amid their moans and screaming, a testament to enduring human suffering.
Despite the nightmares I used to suffer from the tortured cries piercing my window, I like this neighbourhood. Where else in Toronto can you find an evangelical church, Buddhist association, strip club and (awesome) bar all on the same corner? Prostration, meditation, titillation and libations: all can be found with ease. Not to mention South India Dosa Mahal, a great place to seek satiation with tasty sensations. And now that they've moved a little east to a much larger location, socialization is on the menu, too.
At least quadruple its old capacity, the entire new interior has been splashed in Pepto-pink paint, draped in curtains of lemon-yellow, sea-blue, and tangerine-orange and bedecked with riots of fake flowers. The effect of all these plastic colours is so deliciously gaudy it negates the greys and grim realities outside.
Despite all this work, South Indian Dosa Mahal has maintained its old prices and friendly service. There may be pimping and whoring and screaming outside, but inside the owner hums a cheery tune while wiping pink tabletops, and her backpack-clad son rushes in for a hug on his way back from school.
As a food writer, I should probably try something different every time I return to a favoured restaurant, but there are some dishes so tasty I have to order them again and again, and South Indian Dosa Mahal's Vegetable Thali is one of them. Still, in honour of the new location, I decide it's time to switch things up a little. Instead of the Thali, I order the Vegetable Chappati special. It provides exactly the same main dishes, but in lieu of rice I get an extra chappati. See Bloordale: I can live on the edge, too!
For $6.99, I receive a massive stainless steel plate heaped with chewy chappatis, crisp pappadum, and an impressive array of sides. Creamy potato curry provides delicious simplicity against a rich backdrop of velvety eggplant curry, while earthy chick peas complement fennel and green beans in the mixed vegetable curry. On the side, tangy coriander spiked raita is perfectly tart, while sambar is lemony high notes and daal curry is deep and spicy. My favourite part is the tiny serving of spicy pickled carrot. It always reminds of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, where chutneys and pickles are flavoured by the emotions of their makers. Maybe it's the neighbourhood, but this pickle, a tart, spicy zap of endorphins, is an instant contact high. I want to run outside and scream: "Put down your methamphetamine and try this pickle instead! This is real bliss!" But I don't. I stay inside, as I always do, cocooning in this pink haven, relishing the blend of flavours before me, and hoping for a day when carrot pickle will be enough to satisfy all our deepest darkest cravings. Because for me, for today, it is.
South Indian Dosa Mahal is now open for Sunday dinner buffet: $6.95 for kids (13 and under), $9.95 for adults, 5:00-10:00.