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Tradition meets innovation as capital gets a taste of South India

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On most days, the restaurant owner can be found in front of the eatery mastering his dosa making technique on a griddle he has modified specifically for the purpose. He spends hours fiddling with the griddle making sure it’s at the optimal temperature, checking how the humidity is affecting the mixture and whether it’s too thick or too thin. Photo supplied

Tradition meets innovation as capital gets a taste of South India

If variety is the spice of life, then Masala Dosa Street Kitchen in Phnom Penh has enough variety to last at least a couple of lifetimes. The restaurant’s exhaustive menu keeps foodies coming back to try its ever expanding varieties of dosa – a crepe-like dish that is South India’s most iconic culinary offering.

On most days the restaurant’s owner, Dharma Gohil, can be found in front of the eatery mastering his dosa making technique on a griddle he has modified specifically for the purpose.

He spends hours fiddling with the griddle making sure it’s at the optimal temperature, checking how the humidity is affecting the mixture and whether it’s too thick or too thin.

It’s why his patrons keep coming back, and also why TripAdvisor and Happy Cow rank his establishment as the best vegetarian restaurant in Phnom Penh.

“I’ve reversed the whole process for how a dosa is made. It takes up to 15 hours for the dough to be ready because I naturally ferment it the way it was done hundreds of years ago to enhance the flavour and healthiness of the dish,” says Dharma.

The result is a beautifully crisp dosa around the edges and a soft sponge-like texture towards the centre, where the stuffing is usually hidden.

But that’s the straightforward bit, Dharma explains.

“Food is mood. Good food is not just about taste, but also about your body, mind and soul. I’m trying to burst out of all the little boxes that we’re put into.

“There’s the idea that healthy food can only be made a certain way or that being a vegan means that you’re missing out on something,” says Dharma.

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Setting Dharma’s establishment apart from other Indian eateries is his commitment to ancient Ayurvedic recipes, which have been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years on the Indian subcontinent for their health benefits.

“Eating vegetarian food isn’t necessarily healthy for you if it isn’t balanced. I use traditional Ayurvedic recipes and techniques that benefit the eater, but also bring out the full bouquet of aromas and flavours that people think they’d be missing out on by eating vegan,” says Dharma.

Dharma’s vision for the humble dosa pushes the classic dish to new heights, thanks in large part to his ability to reimagine it in new and creative ways. If there’s one thing the former menswear designer is guilty of, it’s experimenting with his food.

There’s the restaurant’s hummus dosa, spinach and corn dosa, Szechuan dosa, eryngii mushroom and coconut cream dosa, chocolate avocado dosa and tom yum dosa. These unusual iterations compliment the classic masala, Mysore and saada (plain) varieties.

It’s all part of Dharma’s customer service, where he aims to make his guests feel as though there’s always something for them on the menu.

“Even if you ate a dosa a day from my kitchen, it would still take over a month to have tried all of them, and next month we’re upgrading our menu to include another 20 flavours,” says Dharma.

“The tom yum dosa was my special way of crafting something thoughtful and creative for our visitors because I never ever want anyone to become bored with the menu. I went to the market with my chef and we put together the ingredients we needed. That night I ended up coming back to the kitchen and I’m really happy with the result.”

The classic masala dosa is served with a spiced mashed potato filling and accompanied with coconut chutney, tomato chutney and a bowl of sambar (a thick lentil, tamarind and vegetable stew).

The sambar’s tadka – the stew’s spices, cooked in oil to release their flavour – has been made richer in antioxidants in order to make the entire meal easier to digest, Dharma says.

“Even my grandmother didn’t know why we do it. According to Ayurveda, spices like cumin, mustard seed, asafoetida, turmeric and many other dry spices have nutrients which can be absorbed by the body only through fat, and the fat is present in oils and ghee [clarified butter],” he says.

Everything leaving Dharma’s kitchen is 100 per cent vegetarian, while the menu also highlights dishes that accommodate vegan, Jain and Taoist dietary restrictions.

Meals are best washed down with a glass of masala scotch (spiced to boost your immune system, Dharma says) and an authentic cup of masala chai, served in a glass tumbler.

Visitors can enjoy a lunch plate for $3.85. The dishes vary depending on which day you visit, but are always served with vegan-friendly biryani rice, chapati flatbread and a special vegetable dish of the day.

Beginning next week, Masala Dosa Street Kitchen will also introduce South Indian Tamil meals, in addition to a number of special weekend events in July celebrating an assortment of Mumbai street food classics.

Masala Dosa Street Kitchen is located on Street 3 near the Royal Palace. The restaurant is open from 11am to 2:30pm, and from 5:30pm until 10pm, Tuesday through Sunday.

You can contact the restaurant for reservations or delivery by telephone (023213672 – note they only deliver their lunch specials).

Their menu can be found on their website (masaladosastreetkitchen.business.site) or Facebook (@Streetkitchenmasaladosa).

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