Dosa Paragon: Victoria’s South Indian family-owned restaurant

Dosa Paragon: Victoria’s South Indian family-owned restaurant

Dosa Paragon is the first South Indian cuisine restaurant in Victoria, founded in 2019 by Bob Unnikrishnan and his wife, Lathika Prasanth Babu. They serve flavourful and authentic dishes from the hearts of Palakkad, India. “Our thing is that [our cooking is] home and restaurant combined. Customers feel that when they taste the food. How the food is made in the home, we match.” Bob reveals. South India’s culture is celebrated at Dosa Paragon, where both Bob and Lithika do all the cooking. 

Bob says that the spicy ingredients that go into Indian cuisine are natural medicines. “Food is the medicine, medicine is the food.” Bob refers to old times, before pharmaceutical products when food was medicine. Every ingredient comes from natural sources, so there are no additives that can contribute to sickness or unease. Bob says the food digests within a couple of hours. “Everything is natural–garlic onion, tomatoes, herbs, cilantro, mint, spices: coriander, cumin, turmeric, and the different cloves: cardamom, bay leaf, all of the spices, they’re medicine.”

The South Indian spices and flavours are only half of what goes into the dishes served at Dosa Paragon. Bob’s cooking is motivated entirely by a passion that began in South India. “I don’t have any written recipes, It’s all from the heart.” Bob states.

Even at the busiest times, Bob keeps cool, absorbed in his passion for his work “I never get upset when cooking, never, because it’s a pleasant feeling. I listen to very mild music and that gives me joy.” Bob wants pure silence when cooking to slow South Indian love songs, as he wants the love to be transferred through the cooking. “The main thing; happy cooking, it’s happening inside,” he adds softly. Bob believes what makes the food taste good is his passion and love for cooking that transfers through the food. “Dosa Paragon is a mirror, if you smile, it smiles back.”  

The Food

The Tasting Victoria team had the opportunity to visit Dosa Paragon and taste food that reflects a cultural tradition, with the care and attention that comes when combining spices and ingredients together to create a specific taste, unique to South Indian culture. We tried their most popular dosa, the butter chicken masala dosa, as well as the paneer-65, tofu coconut masala dosa, and mango lassi.

Dosas and Mango Lassi

The paneer-65 is a perfect appetizer size for the table to enjoy as the exotic spices and chickpea flour soaked into the deep-fried paneer, a fresh, unsalted white Indian cheese. This dish is served with sides of tomato and mango chutney for both a sweet and savoury experience. 

Paneer-65

Masala in Indian cuisine is the blend of spices including cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, cardamom, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel, cloves, star anise, and dry red chilli all roasted and grinder into a smooth powder which worked amazing in the tofu coconut masala dosa were warm and unique as it soaked into the tofu, taking away the bland tofu flavour. The butter chicken masala dosa had vibrant flavours that were both soft and comforting at the same time. 

Tofu Coconut Masala Dosa

Finally, the mango lassi resembled a thick yogurt drink or smoothie that gave the mango the spotlight as its sweetness mixed with the savoury yogurt, balancing each other out into a refreshing and tropical experience. 

Everything is made fresh every day. Bob goes out to buy produce 2-3 times a week and cooks many batches throughout the week. “To retain freshness, we [concentrated] on that from day one. Cook small batches, so that frequent cooking happens.” explains Bob. 

The dish that brings back the most memories of home for Bob is Sambar. It’s a lentil broth cooked in vegetables and spices, and served with every dosa. Sambar is a traditional dish made daily in most South Indian homes. Bob makes a batch almost every day and serves it as a small side dish with meals. That gives everyone a chance to try it. so it’s not wasted while everyone has a chance to try it. 

Dosa with tomato and coconut chutneys and traditional Sambar

In the olden days when his mom would prepare meals, there wasn’t a blender, gas stove, or any kitchen machines or accessories that made cooking fast and easy like it is today. Bob recalls growing up watching cooking being done on a wood fire stove, using a manual stone grinder to grind spices and mixes, and even a manual grater to grate coconut, which would create the exotic and authentic taste of home South Indian cuisine. 

A popular South Indian dish is a savoury breakfast dish known as a Dosa, a breakfast-style fermented crepe made with rice and lentils. This is the most popular item on the menu, as it comes with many savoury filling versions including vegan options. Not to mention its size, as it barely fit on the plates and filled me up for an entire meal! Bob serves dosas with a side of Sambar, and coconut and tomato chutney. If you are wondering how to eat this large triangular dish, it’s a finger food – traditionally eaten with hands. 

“When I see customers eating with their hands, I’ll congratulate them and say thank you. That is the way they’re supposed to be eaten.” Bob informs.

Ripping apart Dosa
Eating Butter Chicken Masala Dosa
Inside Coconut Tofu Masala Dosa

Another popular menu option is an idly (also spelled as idli) which is a steamed savoury rice cake traditionally eaten as a breakfast food. This classic South Indian dish is recommended by World Health Organization because of its lightness and nutritional content coming from the fermented black lentils and rice. The Chicken Dum Biryani is a great choice for a more familiar taste where spices, meat, and rice are cooked together in a similar style to a pilaf. 

Bob has a simple principle for preparing his homemade cuisine: “If you’re simple and humble, you won’t crumble.” He believes that by following that principle Dosa Paragon has enjoyed great success.  

The story

Dosa Paragon was inspired by Bob’s mother’s cooking back in India. In the olden days when there were no catering companies, he recalls helping his mother and aunt prepare food for family functions. Bob would help peel onions and prep all of the food for dozens of family members. The smells that would infuse the kitchen and the food were cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, and red chilli, all roasted and ground into a dry spice mix. After being a big help in the kitchen, and practicing South Indian culture by cooking, Bob found his passion in cooking and began his career as a chef, 27 years ago. 

Bob Unnikrishnan

After working in the food industry around India, in cruise ships, resorts, the US, and Bermuda, Bob was offered a job in Edmonton in 2013. He moved to Victoria in 2015 and worked as a cook in some local restaurants including Mantra, Varsha, Irish Times Pub, and John’s Place. Bob fell in love with Victoria’s calm, quiet and pleasant ambiance, in contrast to the frenetic pace of big cities — Vancouver and Toronto. “It’s calm and vibrant… kind of a village, it’s not like a city… When you walk you feel like you’re doing a meditation — that kind of atmosphere.” 

Once it was time to start his own restaurant Bob didn’t have the money to start a full service.  He opened up a small place inside St. Andrew’s Square, a white building appearing as a hallway with shops and eateries on either side. With its capacity to seat 35 customers within the large walking hallway, and a kitchen the size of a bedroom, Bob and his wife were able to open up Dosa Paragon with the support of the community. Before opening his own restaurant Bob had owned a restaurant back in India where his only responsibilities were to handle materials, leaving the staff to cook and manage themselves led to a lot of money lost.  “Opening here one thing I made clear is I’m the boss and the employee.” Bob states. 

“This is my 27th year in cooking. I’ve worked in cruise ships, resorts, Bermuda, Boston, hotel resorts, all kinds of catering establishments. I’ve been seeing lots of ups and downs in the restaurant industry. So you know, I grab only the positive things from that, just leave all the negative things.” 

Bob Unnikrishnan

Dosa Paragon in Bob’s Eyes

Dosa Paragon brings tradition, staying true to traditional meal preparation in the South Indian home while adjusting to the customers’ preferences and feedback. “Everything has happened from the feedback.” They started with simple utensils, “We initially started serving with disposables, we converted into restaurant-style serving… proper cutlery, plates, glasses. Day by day we have bettered ourselves.” 

Paneer-65 and serving style

Bob views Dosa Paragon as his lifelong love, a love based on caring. “Let’s say my love is at any corner of the world, not in Victoria – let’s say France, Germany – to give the care and affection from here, that’s called love. I was away for two weeks and I missed it very badly, that’s why I came back. I can’t leave my love alone.”  

Bob Unnikrishnan

Bob emphasizes his wife is the foundation of Dosa Paragon, “My wife is the master of home cooking and I do the restaurant. So it’s the combination of both.” While support from Victoria’s community, his staff, and his children keep it going day by day. When Bob is a full-time owner and chef with his wife, it’s hard to find time for his two children. “Sometimes we ask: ‘do you guys really miss us?’ They say it’s okay because you guys are working hard, that’s why we have our own house… They are understanding it at this age.” Bob proudly states. Going on their third year in July, Bob is proud of his job, and God that helps him keep a house over his head while giving to the community to share culture, family, and love.   

Enjoy Dosa Paragon every Tuesday to Thursday from 11am to 8:30pm, Friday to Saturday from 11am to 9pm, and Sundays 11am to 8pm. 

Dosa Paragon

dosaparagon.ca
@dosaparagon
735 Yates St. 

Written by

Annika Olson

Intern at Tasting Victoria