The Dosa Man of New York

7231.dosaman Atiya Hussain in Open the Magazine:

In New York, where rare is the denizen who cooks, street food vending is fast becoming a career choice. With the outlays a fraction of what’s required to run a restaurant, people have been known to give up stable jobs to start a food truck. Among the most famous is Bangladeshi immigrant Meru Sikder—Vendy finalist in 2008 and 2009—who chose his midtown Biriyani Cart over his previous job as banquet chef at the Hilton.

Having prevailed at the 2007 Vendy, the Dosa Man can afford to chat affably and joke with customers in the long line behind his cart. His signature dish, the one he won his award for, is the Pondicherry Dosa, whose stuffing of spiced potatoes and salad greens may be an odd combination for the Indian palate, but remains the cart’s best seller. “We have a lot of weird stuff, like uttapam with mixed veggies…we have vegan drumsticks,” he enthuses.

I used to go to the Dosa cart before things got weird. Back in 2002, Kandasamy still had a huge Subcontinental moustache, and he kept some of his lovely fluffy vadas aside for me. That was early on in the story of the Dosa cart, a time Kandasamy remembers as ‘difficult’ because of all the explaining he had to do in turning the curious into customers: “A dosa is a sort of crepe.”

Flash forward to October 2010, as I hurry past New York University students towards Washington Square Park, which is undergoing major landscaping work and looks devastated. To my dismay, the Dosa Truck is not visible. Two carts inside the park, manned by South Asians, offer ice-cream, pretzels and hot dogs. And then, just as I am about to give up, I see a cute blonde open up her styrofoam package—and there I spy the unmistakable golden crust of the dosa I was looking for. Before she can manage a bite, I apologise and explain that I am looking for the truck. The reason for my interruption elicits a smile. “Right down the street,” she says, pointing. “You’ll see a huge line and a camera crew!”