Thosai is a South Indian savoury, thin pancake made from a batter of various fermented pulses and rice flour, which is then cooked on a flat griddle. The dish is usually eaten at breakfast with accompaniments such as sambar (an Indian vegetable stew), curry and chutney.1
One of the earliest mentions of thosai dates to the sixth century and can be found in the Tamil literature of the Sangam period in India. The Manasollasa, a Sanskrit text written in the 12th century, mentions a similar dish known as dhosaka, which was made using only pulses without any rice added.2
This South Indian snack is made of various fermented pulses including dhal beans, rice flour and halba (Malay for fenugreek).3 The process of making thosai begins with soaking the urad dhal (black gram) and fenugreek for six hours in water. The ingredients are then drained before cooked rice and water are added to the mix and blended to a very smooth texture. Traditionally, the mixture is ground using a stone grinder, as it is believed that this results in a smoother thosai. Next, rice flour and salt are added to the mixture and stirred to form a lump-free batter, which is then left for at least 12 hours to ferment.4
To cook the thosai, a ladleful of the fermented batter is spooned onto the centre of a heated flat griddle coated with oil. The batter is then quickly spread out from the centre of the griddle in a circular motion using the base of the ladle. When the batter develops little holes and its underside turns golden brown, it is flipped over. The thosai is then folded in two and usually served with accompaniments such as sambar, curry and chutney.5
Egg thosai is a version with an egg added to the pancake while the batter is still cooking on the griddle.6
Masala thosai contains spiced potato as filling. The potato is added while the batter is browning on the griddle. The sides of the thosai are then folded over the potato filling and served, sometimes on its own without any accompaniments.7 Masala is a term used in Indian cooking to describe any type of mixture. For masala thosai, the mixture usually comprises mashed potatoes with sliced onions, chillies, mustard seeds and cumin seeds.8
Mysore masala thosai originated from the city of Mysore in the South Indian state of Karnataka. In this version, butter and a mixture of chillies, garlic and cumin (known as Mysore chutney) are spread on the cooking batter before the masala mixture is added. The mixture has additional ingredients such as tomatoes and beans. Coconut chutney and sambar are the usual accompaniments served with the Mysore masala thosai.9
Paper thosai is a large, crisp, paper-thin version of regular thosai. A batter of fermented ground rice and urad dhal is cooked until crisp so that more of the batter is allowed to caramelise. The dish has a unique nutty flavour resulting from the sweet-and-sour taste of the caramelised fermented batter. With a diameter of about half a metre, paper thosai is roughly twice the size of standard thosai.10 It is served in various shapes: folded in half or into a cone shape, or rolled out in long, paper-thin tubes.11 This version of thosai is more popular with the Chinese community in Singapore.12
Paneer masala thosai is a North Indian version that uses a thin layer of paneer (cottage cheese) instead of potatoes and onions for the filling.13
Rava, or rawa, thosai has a nutty flavour derived from semolina flour, which also gives it a coarser texture. Cumin seeds, onions and chillies are added to spice up the batter. Rava thosai is usually served with coconut chutney and sambar.14
Singapore: Dosai, tosai.15
North India: Dosa.16
The information in this article is valid as at 23 December 2014 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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