Dawn of the Dosa
Cheese Dosa in Hyderabad
It was about 4 am when we stepped out of our hotel rooms, clad in pajamas and sweatshirts, and drove through the empty streets of Hyderabad. A few minutes later, we slowed to a halt and I saw a huge crowd gathered in front of us. Groups of people, many looking as groggy as we were, were waiting in the streets, inside their cars, or on their bikes, but were mostly grouped around a small food cart. It was parked below an orange street light, surrounded in a thin layer of fog.
I’d taken a night bus from Mumbai to Hyderabad to see my high school friends. After a night of drinking, my friends decided we weren’t done catching up yet. They handed me a plastic glass filled with rum and Coke and told me their impromptu plan: stay up until 4 am and drive down to Ram ki Bandi for dosa. While I love a good dosa myself, I couldn’t understand why one would be worth so much effort at such an ungodly hour. I stayed up anyway.
There was a sea of men holding out money to the busy cooks and incessant shouts of “Ram, three cheese dosas!” and “Ram, five paneer dosas, quickly please!” Through the chaos, plates of hot dosas laden with dollops of butter were being passed around to hungry, eager customers. It got my stomach rumbling and I realized how famished I was.
We joined the men around the cart, and after a long battle for attention, our orders were placed. I don’t recall how long the wait was, but we immediately tore into the crunchy dosas as they arrived. Usually rather particular about the fillings, I didn’t care whether the cheese oozed out of potatoes or paneer that day. I held on to my plate and gorged, like the hundred others around me.
Since then, during my trips to Hyderabad I’ve never turned down plans for dosas at Ram ki Bandi, which opens at 3 am and shuts only once the batter runs out at dawn.
One time, we sat on the front steps of a shuttered store at 6 am and devoured delicious butter idlis while watching the city turn bright during our wait for dosas; another, we drove through the Old City looking for sweet paan in the bazaar after a 4 am breakfast.
I’ve often urged friends to take me to Hyderabad’s best restaurants, and tucked into plates of the city’s specialities, getting a taste of its rich culture and history, which dates back to the Mughals and Nizams. But then there are these simple cheese dosas which require you to stay up till dawn and are eaten on the streets. Those are the meals I remember best.