A dosa New Jersey reality.

6:45pm, Jersey City.  The massive 70’s redevelopment project that is Journal Square reminds me of some of the more egregious redevelopments in Europe – other than Penn Station, New York City doesn’t really have any modern developments with transit hubs built in (also, like Journal Square, most of the European ones are severely overbuilt – Penn is the opposite, being too small).  Who says New Jersey doesn’t offer anything unique?

Of course, looking back on my thoughts at the time, we may as well have been in a foreign country – like idiot tourists from another land, my girlfriend and I walked a bit down each and every path out of Journal Square before asking directions.  To wit: if you’re going to Dosa Hut, like we were, you want to turn right on the boulevard that you come to out of the PATH station.  Go over the tracks and turn left on Newark Avenue after a few blocks (before the White Castle).  There you’ll find a strip of mostly Indian restaurants in a surprisingly charming un-re-developed atmosphere.

I’d like to say that Dosa Hut totally lacked atmosphere, but that’s not true.  There was a pleasant ring of tiles around the middle of the wall that provided minimal decoration, and the communal pot of sambar in the front was an intriguing and spicy self-service appetizer and people-watching locus.  But, other than the numbers on the table which Sietsema liked, there isn’t much else to look at.

It doesn’t matter, though: the Hut’s dosa dons will whip you up an order of upma (pronounced with the u as “oooh” – I mispronounced it, of course, and now harbor eternal sympathy for David Letterman) in no time flat.  The upma, which seems like a cross between sticky rice and couscous, is enhanced with mustard seeds, herbs, and raw cashews, and served with a pair of sauces.  The first is (I think) coconut chutney, which looks an awful lot like upma with coconut replacing the starch, and tastes a little sweet and a little spicy  The second was a strong-smelling chunky red-orange hot sauce – its bark is stronger than its vinegary bite, but it’s still not something I’d want to down in one gulp.

We had consumed no more than half our upma when our number was called again – this time, our dosas were ready.  I had ordered a cheese masala dosa and a chutney masala dosa.  A dosa is a slightly crispier crepe, served rolled with (in the case of any kind of masala dosa) with curried potatoes in the middle.  One of the world’s perfect fast foods, dosas are, I’m ashamed to admit, relatively new to me.  I would rate the actual crepes at Dosa Hut a notch above the only other one I’ve had (the thinner, crisper gunpowder dosa at Chennai Garden), but they may have been intentionally prepared with different levels of crispness.

The cheese masala dosa was a little disappointing – we knew we were getting Velveeta, per Sietsema, but I was expecting it to be melted.  Perhaps that was a different option – there are at least four cheese dosas among the thirty or so on the menu.  The chutney dosa was folded over, losing the ram’s-horn-like shape, but the chutney (couldn’t figure out what the flavor was) added a pleasing but spicy sourness.  Both dosas were served with even more coconut chutney, and an orange hot sauce that added fuel to the fire already raging in our mouths.

Just when we thought we couldn’t take it any more, the deep-fried iddly arrived.  Seemingly a similar starch to upma, without all the other ingredients, the iddly was cut into chunks and fried to look somewhat like French fries.  Easily the least impressive of the several dishes, we mostly consumed it to put out the hot-sauce fire.  It was also served with coconut chutney and the orange sauce (we had quite a collection of those two things by the end).

We over-ordered by a factor of two, probably, and the total cost to us was $22, including two excellent mango lassis.  I presume the cost would go up if the ingredients in the dosa got fancier, but there’s no need to go overboard – a dosa and a plate of upma will probably feed two.  Don’t forget to account for the $3 round-trip PATH ticket, if your budget’s tight.  Also, the place is completely vegetarian, if that sort of thing matters to you.

Is Dosa Hut worth braving the catacomb-like Journal Square PATH station and the above-ground wilds of Jersey City?  Yes, particularly since you don’t have to get lost like we did.  Also, on the ride home, you stand a good chance of bumping into a hooker/stripper/possible transsexual (per my girlfriend) who’s spent more time in a tanning booth than your average starlet – you’ll know it’s her, because she’ll be applying makeup to her Strangers-with-Candy face and making sure her ridiculously bright red highlights are appropriately arranged in her mane of black curls.  Local flavor, ahoy!


Filed under NYC

2 responses to “A dosa New Jersey reality.

  1. enjil

    Hi Mike,FYI upma is made with cream of wheat and idli are made with rice and urad dal (white lentils).

  2. Thanks a lot! That’s very helpful.

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