Over 30 years of killer Vada Sambar at Woodlands, Karama.


With a 32 year history in Dubai, Woodlands has a cult following. This tiny Karama kitchen knows how to dole out a crisp dosa, tender chapatis, heart-warming sambar, and crunchy vadas that are so perfectly deep-fried that you’d want to cuddle them on a hungry sleepless night.

Masala Dosa - Woodlands Karama - Dubai

Masala Dosa with a belly of turmeric-coloured potatoes at Woodlands

A commercial South Indian meal might leave you with tummy burn if the restaurant hasn’t been discreet about their choice of masalas. But Woodlands doesn’t mess around. They neither tip over the entire masala box into their dishes nor is their food bland. It’s that perfect balance of spice which doesn’t leave you regretting why you ploughed through the entire length of tensile masala dosa, stuffed with simple turmeric-coloured potato curry and tinged with a dab of their pungently aromatic mango pickle if you needed to notch up the flavour.

The flavour all boils down to the sambar. A decent dosa without a fitting bowl of well-tempered lentils is a lost cause. Woodlands’ version delivers the tough love of a strong-armed, curry-mixing South Indian aunty—the muscle of whole spices pounded into the lentils, the sweet touch of sambar onions, and the nutty warmth of coconut and mustard seeds. One more spoonful of chili or more baby onion could wreck that balance. But from what I hear from a 30-year Woodlands’ loyalist, that never really happens. Unless the chef is on holiday.

While Woodlands won’t disappoint if you try their ghee-laden sambar rice or their chapatti kuruma with a stack of tender chapatis and coconut-gravied veggies (kuruma)…

Chappati Kuruma - Woodlands Karama - DubaiChappati Kuruma: Fresh and warm chapatis stacked alongside a coconut veggie gravy and simple raita

…the dish that has to make it to your table is the vada. I have never actively pondered over the life of a vada until I tasted them at Woodlands. From the first time I clasped my fingers around this flying saucer of a lentil fritter at a friend’s home, duly packed and brought home from Woodlands, I was hooked.

Look at them. Closely. Under the outer cratered surface of golden brown crust, there are little nubs of squishy white lentil and crunchy onions and toothy cumin seeds all locked up in the same texturally-diverse vada vault.

Onion Vada - Woodlands Karama - Dubai

Woodland’s uber crunchy onion vada

There’s a spinach version, one with carrots and another with cabbage as well. But don’t over-think which one to get, because when you deep-fry the soul out of a vegetable, all that matters is Le Crunch. At Woodlands, that crunch is spot-on—clean and crisp, without the sogginess of careless residual grease. And the soft porous lentil insides that come to the fore after the initial crunch are hollow chambers just waiting to be flooded with sambar or any of their coconut, coriander or garlic-tomato chutneys. I’m only too happy to oblige with a generous dunk of vada, alternating between the sambar and chutneys, or on a more ambitious bite, cramming them all into one greedy masala-filled vada swipe across the plate.

Spinach Vada - Woodlands Karama - Dubai

The medu vada—an buoyant float of split black lentils—is another vada champion on their menu that I’d paid tribute to on The National earlier this year: each vada is as light and airy as a flotation ring, the perfect fritter to save you from drowning in fatigue on a weekday morning. The fritter cackles with a crunch as you bite into its greaseless deep-fried skin and then hushes to a silence as you meet its fluffy white lentil belly.

Medu Vada - Woodlands Karama - Dubai

Medu Vada Cross-section - Woodlands Karama - DubaiWhile the flat vegetable vadas only make an appearance for dinner, the medu vada bobs out of the fryer at all times of the day. At a dirt cheap price of 7 dirhams, this plump and airy fritter is a killer under-10-dirham breakfast. And with a frothy filter coffee thrown in to close out your meal, you just manage to stretch your bill out to the 10 dirham mark.

South Indian Coffee - Woodlands Karama - Dubai

After three decades of perfecting the sambar, the chutneys and simple but authentic South Indian fare, you’ve got to hand it to Woodlands. They’ve figured out a vada that’s so cloudy light and thunderously crunchy that it’s gone like lightening the minute it hits my plate.

Woodlands Karama - Dubai

Karama. Drive down the road across from the park opposite Lulu, keeping Calicut Paragon and Saravanas Bhavan on your left. As you drive down, once you cross Zabeel Plaza on your left, Woodlands will be on your right. Check out this Google maps link.
Phone: 04-3370253, 04-3345880


Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

5 thoughts on “Over 30 years of killer Vada Sambar at Woodlands, Karama.

  1. Didi says:

    This makes me miss all of the little places in Dubai :( Unfortunately, I am just surrounded by big chains. The little places will require a bit more digging.

    1. Arva says:

      The digging and discovery is what makes things even more fun Didi – I know you have it in you to scour out the best places :)

    1. Arva says:

      ;) Not doing a Karama tour…yet. But you’ll be the first to know!

  2. IshitaUnblogged says:

    I completely agree with you. Lot of people praise Saravanna Bhavan, but we have been visiting Woodlands since the time we have landed here. The Vadas cannot be crispier than this, and the filter coffee not frothier than this. Only thing is the lack of sitting space, which makes you enter the surrounding souvenir shops for a while and end up splurging.


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