As the numbers of COVID-19 infections climb globally, each day’s new restrictions hit us like aftershocks. We are isolated and uncertain.
Unlike most of us, Selvam, owner of Gungahlin-based food van Selvam’s Dosas, has already experienced life-changing upheavals.
Beginning with impactful disruption to his schooling, eventually, every part of his childhood was forever changed.
The civil war that ravaged his homeland of Sri Lankan forced his family to flee their homeland and eventually seek asylum in Australia in 2008.
Selvam has never taken the new freedom he found in Australia for granted.
He credits Melbourne’s refugee support service for enabling him to channel his passion for cooking. Through them, he completed a course so he could work in a commercial kitchen.
Along the way, the support and care from the teams at STARTTS and Blue Mountain Refugee Support Group was vital for Selvam as he established his Tamil food van. He is thankful for Canberra Refugee Support as he sells delectable dosas and other Tamil treats in Gungahlin.
For the past year, Gungahlin locals have driven past his humble food van with its tables and chairs near Gungahlin Oval.
While you can no longer sit and eat, Selvam wants Canberra to know that he is still creating delicious, organic dosas to takeaway.
So, what is a dosa? Imagine a pancake made from fermented batter. For the sourdough lovers out there, and those who enjoy Ethiopian injera, dosas will delight your tastebuds.
Versatile, a dosa can be paper-thin and crispy or plump and tender and embedded with delicious contents.
A set of labelled food photos supplements Selvam’s menu over the van’s stove. This makes the process of ordering an added adventure as you search for the perfect meal. Selvam and his team are happy to make recommendations based on your dietary requirements as well as your tolerance to spicy heat.
I start with a plain dosa. Selvam serves it up folded into a cone and served with three traditional dipping sauces: sambar (a spiced lentil soup), coconut chutney and tomato chutney.
Slightly sour from the fermentation process, my dosa has a delicate snap to it. I could nearly inhale its salty, soured deliciousness with no sauce at all, but those sauces are tasty and flavour-enhancing. The sambar is the mildest sauce on the plate, smooth and aromatic. While the chutneys are tasty, you will need to have a sturdy heat tolerance.
Selvam offers a wide range of fillings for wrapped dosas. He says that regulars always order the spinach with cheese or the cheese with corn fillings.
I order a plump dosa, an utthapam. My vegetable utthapam has fresh tomatoes, onions, capsicum and herbs fried right in into the spongy, sour pancake. It is lip-smackingly delicious. Like a South Indian pizza.
The other standout dish I order is a sweet hopper. Like the dosa, a hopper can be either a savoury dish or a dessert.
A hopper is a concave pancake made from a fermented rice and coconut cream batter. Its outer edge is thin and crisp, while its centre remains soft and melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Selvam tops the hopper with a thin layer of coconut cream, some kithul syrup and a sprinkling of jaggery. Jaggery, made from unrefined palm sugar, is complex and rich, yet not as sweet as regular sugar.
The taste of this dish is unique and complex. I need to take about four bites just to get my head around these textures and tastes that do not usually go together. The hopper is mouthfuls of delight. I can understand why in a Tamil household, hoppers are eaten both at breakfast and at dinner.
Selvam’s Dosas sells masala corn in takeaway cups. Roasted corn kernels tossed in ghee and lemon juice and spices. The salty, familiar tastes of the grill and ghee get a tangy boost from the freshness of lemon and spices.
Selvam’s mango lassi is thick and aromatic with nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices. The spices are still in the drink itself, so don’t be surprised by a clove or two.
This wonderful meal has been washed down with a takeaway cup of Selvam’s Masala tea. Sweet milky tea, fragrant with cardamom, cinnamon and a blend of other spices, it reminds me of the Somali chai I grew up on. It tastes like home to me.
We could all do with more dosas and hoppers in our lives.
Selvam’s Dosas food van is currently located on Crinigan Circle in Gungahlin in the Gungahlin enclosed oval carpark.
It’s open Wednesday and Thursday from 2:00 pm to 9:00 pm, on Friday from 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm.
Follow them on Facebook or call them on 0450 073 727.