I haven't had a Masala Dosa for a very long time so I jumped at the chance to go to Saravana with my parents who have been going and raving about it for a long time. In case I forget to tell you later, there's a sweet counter at the entrance so you can take home some headache-inducing sugary treats, sometimes drenched in syrup for added sweetness.
Once safely past these temptations, the place opens out into a much larger space at the back which is busy and bustling, apparently there are days when there is a queue around the block which would be kind of annoying but the nature of the food, fast and street, means the turnover is pretty quick. The day we went though we were shown to a table straight away, authentically set with a steel water jug and glasses which always makes me feel like I'm in India.
There are saris stapled in a horizontal panel along the walls of the back room in the acid fun colours that are set to be this summers statement according to the Sunday papers, but this is a non-designed place. Completely unpretentious and completely focused on what the customer has come for.
The waiting staff are very efficient and smiley and although your order is taken, and the food brought, quickly, there is no sense of trying to hurry you up. The speciality is Dosa a crispy 'crepe' made out of ground rice and lentils, the Masala version is stuffed with a potato and onion filling and you can choose from paper or rava (a slightly heavier version). They all come with a variety of delicious chutneys - coconut, coriander, lime pickle - as well as dhal and sambar (a more watery lentil curry with tamarind and vegetables) to dip them into.
You can also have a thali to try a few different curries or puris which as a main meal come as one enormous puffed wheat bread which you tear and use to scoop up your curries. Of course if, like me and my father, it proves impossible to choose, just order everything. Somehow you find room and the prices are staggeringly low.
Every note was pitch perfect, the spice, chilli and seasoning. The batter was thin, paper crispy, completely addictive. The dhals were all unique and deeply savoury, a good potato curry is really very hard to beat and this had succulent pieces of potato that were at the magical point of the softest they can be and yet hold their shape and consistency. As close to perfect food as you can get. Pure flavour, humble ingredients, delicious.
This is how you could be vegetarian. And you can pick up a paan on the way out to chew, aid digestion and turn your mouth an alarming shade of red.
You'll find it by braving the streets of East Ham on High Street North on the corner of Byron Avenue. Turn North (right) out of East Ham tube station, it's about 4 streets up on the right.