On a Hunt For Dosa With Amrit Singh

Royal Young talks with indie music editor Amrit Singh, whose new film was featured at the LES Film Festival.

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Like so many epic adventures these days, it began with a tweet. Amrit Singh, Executuve Editor of the indie music site Stereogum had been obsessed with the South Indian dish Dosa, a sort of crepe most commonly made from rice batter and black lentils. Yet, what started as a delicious culinary desire turned into a need to explore Indian and immigrant culture in New York City in a larger way. Sparked by a silly Twitter exchange, Dosa Hunt, the movie quickly grew into a serious project: a documented quest for a legendary Dosa to end all Dosas.

Amrit invited his music-world friends along for the ride–Vampire Weekend‘s Rostam Batmanglij, Das Racist‘s Himanshu Suri and Ashok “Dapwell” Kondabolu, Yeasayer‘s Anand Wilder, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer. The result is an easy going short film which explores how comfort food can transport us, and take us back to our roots, even in New York City. Dosa Hunt screened this past Tuesday at the Lower East Side Film Festival.

We caught up with Singh as he took a break from Bonaroo music festival to talk about what makes Dosas magical, how his obsession began and the inspiration behind the film:

ROYAL YOUNG: Why are Dosas so magical?

AMRIT SINGH: [laughs] Well, they are a food anyone can try. There’s no gluten, they can be vegan. My family is from India, but Dosa is a South Indian food so I didn’t grow up having it very much. I’m not alone in conflating North Indian food with India at large as a culinary cuisine but also as a culture in general. The initial wave of immigration that came over from India in the ‘60s were from that area and they were the ones opening local restaurants. Any American going out for Indian food was eating at a North Indian restaurants and I was the same. Until I was a young man living in New York City and had a Dosa one day in Manhattan that really blew my mind.

YOUNG: What was it about the Dosa? Was it sense memory?

SINGH: It was here was this delicious Indian dish that I had little to no experience with. I had purported to be an expert on Indian food and culture. It was a really humbling moment where I realized how much more there was to experience. I took it upon myself to go on my own Dosa hunt.  Just something like how people with their friends in their city might look for the best taco. It’s a pretty common city thing where the choices are so vast. It becomes a little mission.

YOUNG: How did you then take that experience we all kind of have of being drunk with friends and wandering around a neighborhood to find the best taco or best burger or best Dosa and decide to make it into a movie?

SINGH: It was very organic. At the same time as I was on my own personal Dosa hunt a friend from Vampire Weekend Rostam Batmanglij tweeted “eating a Dosa” and this obviously peaked my interest. I immediately wrote back asking what kind and where from? And he replied “Well it’s got arugula and Jack cheese and it’s from the Hamptons Chutney Company,” which immediately I was just like okay, you poor soul.

YOUNG: [laughs] Yeah, that’s horrible.

SINGH: I was like, we need to get together. Then Himanshu Suri from Das Racist replied and before long we had this mass of brown dudes successful in the field of music on Twitter talking about Dosas. We decided we should all get together and get different Dosas. But then I was the journalist in the group, so I was thinking about it, probably over thinking about it, getting in the macro issues and was like, what if we brought a camera along?

YOUNG: Do you feel like being in New York City was integral to going on this Dosa hunt?

SINGH: A Dosa hunt can be pulled off in many cities. But in terms of what I was trying to frame was more about the immigrant experience and New York is pivotal and essential to that story. New York is where the huddled masses came ashore. There’s a charge we bring to New York and Indian food in the film.