Amit who is always on the hunt for new, great places to eat, insisted I had to write about Canada Dosa Corner, not only because of the food, but also because of owner and single mom to seven, Mary Letchumaman. We went for dinner last week and were blown away.
In her native Sri Lanka, Mary trained not only as a chef, but also as a midwife and a nurse. She’s also worked in Bangalore in the south of India as a chef.
After she moved to Canada in 2005, she worked in a nursing home, a cleaning company, and even in a warehouse as a forklift driver. She’s always done catering on the side and that’s how she ended up opening Canada Dosa Corner in February.
Mary works 17-hour days, doing everything from the cooking, cleaning, dish-washing and supply shopping. Most of the earnings go to her two daughters in India, and five orphan children in Sri Lanka who she adopted after the 2004 tsunami. She sends $1,400 to them every month for their food and English schooling at a convent.
Her biggest goal is to make enough money to prove to the Canadian government that she has the income and stable housing to sponsor her children to join her.
As the only Sri Lankan restaurant in Calgary, there are a few dishes you won’t obviously find anywhere else like string hoppers. They’re made from steamed rice noodles curled into round kind of patties. You eat it with dal or curry or really anything saucy.
Then there’s kothu which you’ll find listed on the menu under bread. But really, it’s much more than that. Kothu is a Tamil word meaning “chopped,” and it’s made up of chopped up bits of roti, eggs, vegetables, and meat. Mary makes versions with lamb ($9.99) or chicken ($8.99).
Traditionally, kothu is chopped up with knives held in each hand on a skillet, so it makes this very distinctive — almost musical —sound especially from the stands on the street or train stations where this is sold.
Mary also makes a mean dosa ($5.99-$8.99). They’re oversized kind of pancakes, stuffed with just about anything you want: plain, with mushrooms, or chicken, or masala-style (spiced potato curry).
Most Indian restaurants in Calgary focus on northern dishes (butter chicken et al.) and give passing attention to dosas if at all. Mary’s dosas are crisp and fresh and perfectly light.
Mary’s chicken korma ($9.99) was the best I’ve had in the city. She has a selection of those northern dishes and also kebabs and even fried rice. But there are plenty of other restaurants for those. Try some new things. With nothing over $10, you can’t lose.
Usually the restaurant is staffed by Mary and one other person. This is not fast food. Please don’t get impatient.
Mary is one of those owners that takes a lot of pride in what she does. And she loves throwing in little extras (like the ulundu vadai, five pieces for $4.99) and conveniently forgetting to charge for some things. Perhaps not the most solid business plan, but her hospitality and her food will keep bringing you back.
Canada Dosa Corner, 1715-52nd St. SE, Calgary, (403) 235-3672. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Mondays.