The Masala Dosa Index

The Big Mac index is the easy way to understand complicated economics. Since Big Macs are available in several countries, they offer an easy way to measure what the local currency buys in global terms – rather than comparing currencies alone and arriving at answers. In the latest one – July 2011 for example, $4.07 buys you the Big Mac in the USA and the equivalent Maharaja Mac is just $1.89 in India. In purchasing power parity that means a dollar buys Rs. 23 worth of goods and not the Rs. 50 suggested by the official exchange rate.

The Big Mac index does a great job of helping us understand comparative value by standardisation. But can we have an Indian perspective because the number of Indians who eat a Big Mac is still minuscule? It’s time to take a fat bun sandwich with a slice of minced and fried meat in the middle and let an Indian favourite stand tall alongside and be counted.

It’s slimmer, tastier, and healthier. It has a crisp exterior wrapped around a wholesome combination of melt in the mouth potatoes and onions, delicately spiced. It’s one of the few things South and North Indians agree is delectable, apart from South Indian heroines. Its the comfort food that can begin your day or wrap it up. Don’t be fooled by its outward appearance as a thin pancake. The Western version is bland, limp and needs oodles of syrup to be palatable. The Masala Dosa does double duty as a baton and you can tear off thin crusts, dip them in several versions of chutney, from coconut to garlic to tomato and savour every little spicy morsel. Best of all, it cannot be eaten with a fork and spoon. You have to use your hands.

Its origins are ancient. The earliest reference to the Dosai from whence the Masala Dosa sprung is in the sixth century AD. It was a phenomenon when the Big Mac was yet to be invented. And the world would be far better off eating Masala Dosas by the dozen. It should become India’s most prolific export, apart from the armies of programming professionals. May be we can send some of our best Udipi cooks to create the magic. Imagine street corners in the Big Apple with sweaty cooks liberally spreading the batter and a whole lot of New Yorkers lining up for a taste of Indian paradise. It could beat the queues for the Ipad or pod hands down.

So here’s the thing. We need to get the Masala Dosa Index going. Starting from Indians in far-flung corners of the globe chipping in and letting us know what the Masala Dosa costs locally. How much is one in Helsinki versus the one in Myladuthurai, for instance? We’re trying to see the price variation of the Masala Dosa across India and the world in comparable restaurants. Our goal is to see what a Masala Dosa costs in a Saravana Bhavan type of middle-class restaurant in the world and across India. We all know that companies price products differently in different markets. We’re trying to find out by how much using the Masala Dosa as a benchmark!