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Local Eats: February 1, 2013

No Forks, No Fuss

“The food tastes better when you eat it with your hands,” says Sharon Badhadr, the manager of Madras Woodlands in New Hyde Park.

We were looking at our masala dosa—a crisp, filled crepe so large that it protruded over the sides of the plate. We dug in, breaking off pieces with its spicy potato, onion filling, and dipping it in little dishes of onion/tomato chutney, coconut/coriander chutney, and sambar—a sort of lentil soup.

The first time I encountered a masala dosa, I was perplexed. How do I eat this thing? I asked and was told to break off pieces and eat it with my hands.

What I have learned since is that there is no “correct” way to eat a dosa except that cutlery is not part of the experience.

The dosa is made from rice flour and black lentils that have been soaked, pulverized and fermented. The crepe is very crisp with a deliciously tangy sourness that blends well with the fillings and chutneys. The mixture of textures, tastes and aromas is fantastic.

Madras Woodlands has been perfecting its vegetarian cuisine since its early days in Manhattan in the 1970s. The restaurant moved to its storefront location in New Hyde Park eight years ago, offering 18 kinds of dosa—some brushed with clarified butter or sprinkled with home-made cheese, or made with semolina. They wowed us with their Paper Dosa, which takes the crepe to extreme. The Paper Dosa is huge—more than three feet long, and thinner and crisper than the usual dosa. It is meant to be eaten as is or dipped into various sauces.

Madras Woodlands also features soups, appetizers, rice dishes and curries, plus various breads: whole wheat flatbread (chapatti), onion paratha (flat bread stuffed with onions) and fried, puffy puri.

Spice levels can be adjusted to level of tolerance; in Indian restaurants, I’ve found that lassi—a smooth yogurt drink (sweet, salty or with mango) is a good way to tone down any spice that gets out of hand.

Every weekend Madras Woodlands puts out a lunch buffet with both south and north Indian vegetarian dishes. Generally there is one soup, two appetizers, three rice dishes, three curries and two desserts, plus a dosa.

It is also possible to bring a dosa party to your own home. The restaurant does catering, bringing their dosa griddle, as well as other dishes. They have hosted events at hotels and have even held weddings in the restaurant.

Madras Woodlands is located at 1627 Hillside Ave., New Hyde Park. The phone number is 516-326-8900, and the website is