Indian pop-up D.C. Dosa finds a home at Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom

February 13, 2013

Last fall, Priya Ammu gave her Southern Indian restaurant concept, D.C. Dosa, a test run. For five consecutive Monday nights, D.C. Dosa held a pop-up event at Domku, where crowds filled up on ginger lemonade, a carrot pudding known as halva and crispy crepe-like dosas.


The four-lentil dosa at District Dosa, customized with potato curry filling and cilantro-sesame chutney. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

But if the event's intent was to whet the appetite of the dining public for a new standalone restaurant, that's not exactly how this pop-up turned out: Among those who dined at the D.C. Dosa pop-up was a Whole Foods Market employee, who saw promise in Ammu and the dosas.  A little negotiation followed, and last month, Ammu quietly began serving her vegan, lentil-based, wheat-free dish under the District Dosa banner in the food court of Whole Foods's Foggy Bottom shop.

The kiosk offers three variations of the dosa for $8 apiece daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Diners pick their type of crepe at the counter, choose a filling (the traditional potato, eggplant and sweet potato, or carrot and cabbage) and then watch as it's made. Don't forget a chutney: The best might be the cilantro-sesame, but Ammu also offers tomato-peanut and carrot-yogurt.

Priya Ammu started DC Dosa as a pop-up, then found a permanent home for her business at Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom, where she makes crepe-like Southern Indian dishes under the District Dosa banner. Pictured: Ammu explains the dish to customers. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)
Priya Ammu found a home for D.C. Dosa at Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

About the "dosas"

In the strictest sense of the word, they're not exactly the rice-based crepe you'll recognize from South Indian restaurants in the area. Instead, Ammu's crepes are inspired by close cousins of the dosa.  Her four-lentil variety with ground peppercorn and dried red chilis is the equivalent of what's known as adai dosa, while the green-tinged mung-bean variety is pesarattu, and her fluffy yellow-lentil dosa is better known as uttapam.

My favorite combo? The kicky mung-bean dosa with the eggplant and sweet potato filling, which somehow reminded me the most of eating something my grandmother would make.

For most of you, this will border on TMI. But it's worth noting that these dishes are more often cooked in South Indian homes as breakfast or a snack than served at restaurants. Because lentils make up the batter, they're dense and protein-packed. And the fact that they're dairy-free certainly doesn't hurt the calorie count.

“Some people are surprised it’s not the long, crispy masala dosa," explains Ammu. "I explain to them it’s more nutritious and more filling."

Lavanya Ramanathan is a professional eater/drinker/thinker for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. University of Texas. Northwestern University. Rap fan.
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Alex Baldinger | February 13, 2013