Columnist Caitlin Weigel gives chutney a chance and is pleasantly surprised with the taste outcome.
I’ve always been slightly biased against chutney. Something about the word – which sounds an awful lot like “chunky” and conjures up images of fatty bits floating around in thick liquid – just totally turns me off. I’m usually pretty open-minded when it comes to food, but chutney was one of those things I was always ready to take a pass on.
Cut to one week ago when my insane hankering for cheap Indian food led me to a place on 16th and Sansom streets known as Philadelphia Chutney Company. I was breaking my own rule of total chutney avoidance by setting foot in the place, but the website was nicely designed, it was within walking distance of my internship and my stomach was practically throwing a tantrum, like a small child in a Kmart screaming bloody murder for something with curry in it.
So I went.
I ordered something on the menu without knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. The hunger was so blinding I decided to just ignore any word I wasn’t familiar with in the menu description as if it didn’t actually exist.
In this case, I saw the words “Curry Chutney Veggie chicken, Balsamic Roasted Onion & Spinach” and decided to skip over the looming word at the top – dosa. It seemed like a fairly harmless word – not nearly as offense as chutney – so I ordered.
Dear sweet food gods in heaven – I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Turns out “dosa” is code for massive, foot-long sour dough crepe thing that contains all of the delicious meats and sauces you could ever dream of. Dosas are basically awesome savory pancakes that hold incredible Indian fillings.
And the chutney situation? I’m definitely warming up to the idea. The curry chutney on my chicken was excellent and the coconut chutney I got on the side added a cool, refreshing element to the meal. Chutney is really more like a flavorful paste than the gelatinous alien barf I was envisioning.
The meal cost me less than $10 and left me feeling quite satisfied. The establishment was very laid-back and service was fast. It’s an order-at-the-counter kind of deal – perfect for a quick, delicious meal.
As much as I enjoyed my meal there, my home experiments with the recipe were not quite as successful. In my Googling of the definition of a dosa, I found the dish repeatedly described as the Indian equivalent of a “crepe.” In my mind, “crepe” can pretty much be translated into “pancake.” And let’s be honest – it’s the end of the semester, and any potential shortcuts I can find, you best believe I’m taking.
Besides, the actual recipes I found for dosas involved a mystery grain ingredient known as “split urad daal,” soaking things overnight, grinding junk together, spreading out batter in a thin layer – generally just a bunch of things too exhausting to even read. So, I was cheap, and I tried to take a shortcut.
I mixed up some chicken, cooked bell peppers and pineapple with a yogurt-based curry sauce – a simple start. Then I made some regular ol’ Aunt Jemima-style pancakes. I didn’t even attempt to tweak the recipe. I just followed the directions on the box. When the pancakes were done, I scooped some of the curry mixture on top and hoped for the best.
It was far from the best – not even comparable to my experience at the Philadelphia Chutney Company. I had disgraced the good name of dosas everywhere by referring to my half-assed pancake by the same name. Dosas all over the world cried out in pain and embarrassment at the soggy dough circle I was associating with them. It was a sad day for all.
Not to say that you shouldn’t be making pancakes and wrapping them around delicious stuffing. You should totally be doing that all the time. It’s brilliant.
Just don’t mislead people by telling them it’s a dosa. It fo’ sho’ isn’t a dosa. It’s just a delicious snack food that was probably already invented by some stoner who realized how good it is when you wrap anything in a pancake.
End result? Get yourself down to Center City to experience the real deal. It’s not too expensive, and it’s an incredibly delicious meal. Save the pancake wraps for when you stumble home in the wee hours of the morning and are feeling experimental.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.