Your food arrives fast at Surati Farsan Mart, but it's not fast food. You whisk it away on a black plastic tray, cafeteria-style, and settle comfortably in your seat before noticing that the plates and cutlery are plastic, too.
My inner environmentalist winced a little, pained by the sight of all that unnecessary Styrofoam and plastic. Then, my masala chai tea arrived in a paper cup and cemented Surati's informal, food-court vibe.
But if the food is delicious, does the presentation matter? Of course, my mother would say matter-of-factly. I understand that it does count, and I'd love to swap the plastic for porcelain, but when I broke into Surati's masala cheese dosa, the last thing on my mind was the unsightly, disposable flatware.
Dosas are wafer-thin, South Indian pancakes made with rice and urad dal, or black lentils. After soaking for several hours, the rice and lentils are finely ground, then blended together, creating a light batter that ferments overnight. The mixture gets ladled onto a hot griddle. Working from the center, you must spread the batter quickly and carefully, so that it cooks evenly.
The dosa offerings at Surati Farsan (9494 Black Mountain Road in Miramar) run the gamut from savory to sweet, plain to stuffed. The foot-long masala cheese dosa is crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Drag a piece of the lacy-edged snack through coconut chutney to soften the sting of its spiced potatoes. Surprisingly, cheddar—and not paneer— forms the dosa's cheese component. That confused me at first, but I ended up appreciating the cheddar's slow, luxurious stretch.
A vegetarian restaurant and bakery, Surati Farsan specializes in fare from the Gujarati region of Western India. The original mart opened in Artesia, Calif., nearly 30 years ago and was later joined by the San Diego location.
The eatery's extensive menu offers more than just dosas—there are crunchy samosas packed with chickpeas and corn kernels that pop in your mouth. A spicy chickpea curry, or chole, accompanies the deep-fried pastries. Temper the heat with gulps of mango lassi, a yogurt drink that boasts miraculous cooling powers.
Yogurt also appears in the Delhi chaat—the least resplendent of the dishes I tried. Chaat is a term for the sweet and savory snacks of India's street stalls. In the Delhi chaat, potatoes, beans and yogurt are layered over crushed whole-wheat shells. The fried dough pieces quickly lose their crunch and become soggy, resulting in a creamy, heavy dish that isn't worth all the extra calories.
Go for the dahi sev puri instead. Golf-ball-sized puffs of deep-fried dough carry mung beans and black chickpeas. Yogurt gets drizzled over the sweet-and-spicy morsels, and a scattering of crunchy noodles completes the popular street food. Though the dahi sev puri and the Delhi chaat share many of the same ingredients, the former's easy-to-eat, finger-food component makes all the difference.
For dessert, you're bound to find something you like among Surati's long list of sweets. If not, then a hot cup of masala chai, milky and fragrant, will do the trick. Now, if only you could sip it from a ceramic mug.