The aroma lingering in the air is that of Dosa… this is Washington Square Park in New York. In the street-side shop, Palaniswami Thiru Kumar cooks up 'Thattu Dosas' and 'Masala Dosas'. 'Dosa' fanatics gulp down in dozens dipping the chunks in hot chutney. It is a rare sight in New York where the normal food theme comprises of burgers, hot dogs and occasional kebabs. How does Dosa thrive among the street foods monopolized by American, European, Mexican and Afghan street foods? Palaniswami will tell the story.
His grandmother was the guru. It is from her recipes that all these varieties of Dosas emerge. Considering the alien environment, the recipes were tweaked a bit here and there. Palaniswami says that though all kinds of Dosas are devoured, Masala Dosa is the one in high demand.
New York, famed for its non-vegetarian tone in food, still keeps a good palate for vegetarian food. Dosa with potatoes, green leaves, and vegetables is widely accepted as a healthy food. A crispy Masala Dosa, sliced into two and dipped in the four varieties of chutneys, is irresistible. Palaniswami’s street-side shop was born out of this potential.
Palaniswami, a Srilankan Tamil is now celebrating the 18th year of commissioning his shop in New York. It is now 25 years since he had immigrated to America. His initial years were full of struggle wherein he did sundry jobs in construction sites, petrol bunks etc. before obtaining the license to operate the Dosa shop. He invested $13,000 using his entire savings and taking a bank loan. Hard work was the winning formula. Palaniswami does not stop his work come sun or snowfall.
New York is a crowded city and you would be left wondering where all those large masses of people are moving in such a hurry. If you just stand by the New York Penn station, you will be carried by the flowing mass of the crowd to the 7th or 8th streets, or elsewhere. In the morning and evening peak hours, you cannot stand still anywhere. You will be carried one way or the other by the flow. This is how the street food became so very popular in New York. On the way to the office or on the way back, whatever comes from the streets get gobbled down as there is no time to stop anywhere for long. The food is purchased on the go and eaten while ‘flowing’ with the crowd. It might be because of this that the pushcarts and food trucks proliferated in New York. This is where Palaniswami’s pushcart named ‘N.Y. Dosas’ comes in.
Apart from various Dosas, Uthappams, Bondas and Idlis, Palaniswami also offers a dish named Singapore Noodles. Meals named 'Puducherry Special', ‘Jaffna Special’ etc. are very popular. Most of the dishes cost about $8. There are some dishes costing $9. This is pretty cheap for New York standards. A good burger might cost as much. Many of the restaurants charge $35-40 for a meal. Many of those who are habituated to the 'Thattu Dosa- Omelette' combination may get disappointed here. There is no dish with eggs or milk available here. This is the way to promote vegetarianism.
Palaniswami vouches that his contentment is in serving pure and healthy food. If you are literally fed up with Burgers and Steaks, visit ‘N.Y.Dosa Cart’, 50, Washington Square Park, 10012.
It is a 15 minutes' distance from New York Penn Station. You can also reach by disembarking at Christopher Street.