Indian Essentials: Are Dosai Pancakes or Crepes?

Are Indian flatbreads (Dosa etc) pancakes? or crepes?

Often recipes for Indian flatbreads such as Dosa and similar are referred to as pancakes or crepes. I wasn’t keen on this labelling, so I did some research. Wikipedia (along with other sites) says:

A pancake is a thin, flat, round cake prepared from a batter, and cooked on a hot griddle or frying pan. Most pancakes are quick breads; some use a yeast-raised or fermented batter. Most pancakes are cooked one side on a griddle and flipped partway through to cook the other side. Depending on the region, pancakes may be served at any time, with a variety of toppings or fillings including jam, chocolate chips, fruit, syrup etc.

The pancake’s shape and structure varies worldwide. There are numerous variations of them throughout Europe. In Germany, pancakes can be made from potatoes. A crêpe is a Breton variety of thin pancake cooked on one or both sides in a special crepe pan to achieve a network of fine bubbles often compared to lace – a savory variety made from buckwheat is usually known as a galette.

In India the Pooda [Ed: /Puda/Pudla] (sometimes called Cheela)] is a pancake. They can be made either sweet or salty and are of different thicknesses in different places. They are made in a frying pan and are of a similar batter as their European counterparts [Ed: but are eggless and the batter is from chickpea flour, not predominately wheat flour!].

Dosa, Appam, Neer dosa and Uttapam could be said to be other Indian pancakes. They are prepared by fermenting rice batter and split skinned urad bean (black lentil) blended with water. What Punjabis call meetha pooda are a common breakfast food item in the Punjab. It is a sweet pancake which can be eaten with pickles and chutney. Most of the pithas in Assam are types of pancakes served on occasions such as Bihu. In most parts of India there is a sweet pancake called malpua served.“

So technically they are pancakes and sometimes crepes, but it’s good to be aware that the common understanding of pancake is a dish made from wheat flour and eggs and often eaten for breakfast. Indian flatbreads definitely do not fit this description!

My dream is that the nomenclature for Indian foods will gradually become common around the world, just as we have learned over the years to be familiar with tzatsiki, risotto, tapenyaki, boreks, yiros, caponata, maqluba and other terms from the cuisines of different cultures. I dream of a day where words such as dosa, kitchari, sambar, rasam, poriyal, pachadi, usili, kuzhambu, bisibelebath, and so many more, are in the vocabulary of everyone even vaguely interested in food. That people understand the nuances between this Indian dish and that one, between the way it is cooked here and the way it is made in another city or another state. It just takes patience, persistence and education. The world will be a richer place when that happens.

You can find all of the Indian Essentials articles here. You might be interested in Why Ghee is not really Clarified Butter, and Why Kitchari is not Risotto.

You might also like to browse our Spice information here. Check out our easy  Indian recipes here and here.

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Take care of yourself. Be mindful. Enjoy your day.

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