November 02, 2004

MLA Pesarattu

Pesarattu is a variant of the dosa made with moong dal, what a pretentious restaurant menu would call 'a green gram and rice crepe topped with onion and chillies, served with ginger chutney'. It is an Andhra speciality, typical of the home cooking of the region.

During Chandrababu Naidu's time as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, the State Tourism Department cooked up a scheme to project the pesarattu as a symbol of Andhra's Best. First step was a website on this quintessential Andhra snack:

"We are making all efforts to add as many details as possible about the dish on the site, including 60 different ways of making the snack," says the Director, Tourism, G. Kishen Rao. After all, 'pesarattu' has a reputation built over generations and still lingers long on millions of taste buds. "Like gongura, pesarattu is as Telugu as it can get," he smiles.

The idea floated by the Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, at one of the review meetings of the department set off Project Pesarattu with the Tourism officials scurrying out for the ideal recipe, master chefs in Andhra hinterlands and of course, webmasters who could host the website.

(K V S Madhav,'Pesarattu' steps out of your kitchen!', The Hindu, Feb 17, 2002)
Was ever launched? Even if it did make it to cybersapace under another name, it's highly unlikely that the site survived the change in government: Chandrababu Naidu lost the Assembly elections this year, partly because voters thought he was wasting his time on constructing virtual Cyberabads when farmers were starving in his state.

It's tempting to link the MLA pesarattu to Naidu's folly, but it seems that the dish was invented before his time. The MLA stands for 'Member of the Legislative Assembly' of course, and the dish itself is a richer, VIP version of the humble pesarattu, stuffed with upma.

But why name it after a mere MLA, when every two-bit Mughlai restaurant in the country lists Chicken Shahjehan and Chicken Jahangiri on its tattered menu? The answer is that the MLA is all-powerful in Andhra Pradesh in ways we cannot imagine. Think of all those Telugu films with titles like Rowdy MLA and Independent MLA, and you'll understand that the term is a badge of status in the region. In fact, there may be an element of satire involved in naming a jumbo dosa an MLA dosa, a dig at the politican's voracious greed.

And how do you pass up a dish with the mysteriously tantalizing name of M.L.A. pesarat? This lentil pancake stuffed with an opulence of crisp-sweet, barely cooked onions, green chillies, fresh ginger and garlic is named for Members of the Legislative Assembly (because it's very rich -- get it?)(Greg Cox, 'Who needs meat?', restaurant review on, September 26, 2003)

As V.I.P's in India pesarattu is served as MLA Pesarattu (Member of Legislative Assembly) with upma folded in it and topped with a scoop of salted Amul butter. (post from prasad2 to EGullet Forum, September 23, 2004)

The MLA Pessarattu, which is the usual pesarattu served with upma. It sells like hot cakes in Tirupati and Vijayawada. (Alina Sen, 'Trailing the Andhra food route',The Times of India, September 12, 2002)

I think Vizag's most famous breakfast dish is the Pesarathu, a pancake-like dosa made out of green moong dal. It is cooked in every household and is also available on the menus of every tiffin restaurant in the city. It is popularly known as the MLA Pesarathu. Legend has it that MLAs of this city have always been fond of this dosa and demand it wherever they go... The Pesarathu, apart from the green moong dal, also has a little rice. The composition is, say, 95 per cent moong, which is soaked with the rice and made into a dosa paste. Into this dosa is stuffed not the spicy potato masala with onions, but a regular portion of upma!(Krishnan Nair,'Pesarathu, The Dosas MLAs Have For Breakfast!',Upper Crust)
Next week, children: the Spring Dosa.

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