Just like Mexico, India has a flourishing street-food scene. A visit to the mammoth sub-continent sees men squatting on the side of the road snack in hand, stallholders handing out sugar-soaked donuts in exchange for a rupee or two, and workers on the run devouring a street-side snack on the way to their next meeting.
And yet when it comes to Indian food in Australia, it’s a very different picture. The cuisine has been relegated to food courts and takeaways, where neon orange butter chicken sits next to dry samosas and heavy curry and rice.
Thankfully a new legion of restaurants are rocking the boat, taking this perception and turning it on its head, giving the cuisine a new lease on life. Chefs and restaurateurs, sick of seeing the same thing over and over, are re-appropriating the flavours and techniques most commonly associated with Indian food. They are adding a generous mix of local ingredients and combining the two to create contemporary dishes that fuse the very best of the two countries. They’re bringing Indian street food to the fore, delivering the most authentic eating experiences yet.
Chefs and restaurateurs, sick of seeing the same thing over and over, are re-appropriating the flavours and techniques most commonly associated with Indian food.
Arguably, the leaders of this pack are Jessi and Jennifer Singh. Having launched Dhaba at the Mill to great acclaim, they went on to open Horn Please and Babu Ji. Having done their bit to spread Indian food’s new setting at home, they sold all three businesses and moved to New York, opening the very first Babu Ji in Manhattan’s Soho.
Mani Wariach and Ranjit Singh inherited Babu Ji, St Kilda and have continued this trailblazing effort. They’ve set out to challenge every eater’s idea of what Indian food is, taking traditional dishes and elevating them with fresh produce and outstanding presentation. There is no slopping on the plate here – everything is considered and clever. The pani puri literally explodes in your mouth, while the tandoori chicken breaks every stereotype of the dish. Giant king prawns come out yellow thanks to a turmeric-based marinade and the butter chicken is a dark rust colour, a result of a tomato, fenugreek and cardamom mix. Beer is the drink de jour, with an impressively full fridge full of rotating brews.
The CBD’s Delhi Streets could be considered Babu Ji’s teammate in the merge of cuisines. The menu is smaller but the flavours couldn’t be fresher, with the same dedication to extrapolating the best elements of tradition and pairing them with a decidedly Melbourne approach. The focus here is on thali – a platter of two curries served with rice, naan, papadum, raita and salads.
Roving food truck Overdosa is literally taking Indian food to the streets, popping up at festivals and markets all over Melbourne. The truck is the delicious brainchild of mates Kunal and Tyson, and offers a virtual ticket to India through its range of mouth-watering street food, with a spotlight on the fermented crepe-style pancake known as dosa. Cooked on specially imported hotplates, stuffed with a selection of vegetarian and gluten free fillings and served with a fresh carrot and toasted sesame seed salad, it’s a perfect replication of what can be found on the streets of the sub-continent.
Lucky for Melburnians, this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. With crowds continuing to discover – and subsequently fall in love – with the intricacies of Indian cuisine, it’s a reinvention that will stand the test of time.
Where to get your new Indian fix:
4-6 Grey St, St Kilda
22 Katherine Pl, Melbourne
20 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne
167 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North
Shop 22, Goldsborough Lane, Melbourne
On the Move:
Check its Facebook page for locations
A catering company that brings the best of South Indian cuisine to your event. Find out more: wearekerala.com.au