Got the Punjab covered

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Sada Bahaar, 308 Ballarat Road, Braybrook.

When Sadia – that’s her on the left – arrived in Australia from Pakistani Punjab about four years ago, she quickly realised she was going to need a driver’s licence for her new life.

In the course of obtaining one, her driving instructor was Ravinder – that’s her on the right – who hails from Indian Punjab.

Out of that experience grew a friendship and now a restaurant.

And along the way, Sadia, too, has become a driving instructor.

Sada Bahaar (it means ever-green) is situated on a stretch of Ballarat Road that is never, ever going to win any beauty contests.

But it is showing signs of increasing foodiness, what with the presence of a long-time Sri Lankan place we have yet to cover, a much newer, cheap ‘n’ cheerful Sri Lankan place, as well as a burger joint. Also nearby, just around the corner really, is the wonderful West of Kin.

 

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The origins in friendship of Sada Bahaar imbue this comfy eatery with a vibe that is almost unRestaurant – the same person who takes your order is also going to be among those knocking your food together in the kitchen.

We like that.

We like, too, the chance to explore some different and Pakistani dishes from the usual Indian stuff we devour on a weekly (at least) basis.

To that end, our very good buddy Nat Stockley has already made inquiries along those lines even before Bennie and I rock up.

We enjoy a very tasty meal that blends Indian and Pakistani tucker in fine home-cooked style.

 

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Dahi bhalay ($7.50) are deep-fried urad dal dumplings served with spiced yogurt, chick peas and onion bits.

They are also very nice – the blandness of the dumplings (they have, for all of us, a touch of the felafel about them) offset by the tangy toppings.

 

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Haleem is not so much a Pakistani dish but more a staple – made of grains, pulses, meat – across the Muslim world that is often associated with Ramadam.

This chicken version ($10) is very soup-like, the chook so finely minced that it all becomes one with the ingredients.

With its cool fried-onion topping, it reminds me of our favourite Iraqi soup.

 

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From the tight barbecue section of the menu we get lamb seekh kebab ($10) – two long, skinless snags of minced lamb that is quite crumbly but nevertheless delicious.

 

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All too often, the chick peas we get in Indian restaurants seem to be getting a bit tired on it.

By contrast, the Sada Bahaar Lahori cholay ($10) smacks of freshly cooked – but with the gravy and intact pulses nicely integrated.

And as you can see by the many flecks of chilli, this is quite highly spiced food – as are most of our dishes.

 

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Sada Bahaar special kahari ($14) is the triumph of the night and our meal.

A rich (and, yes, rather oily) chook curry, it has high-impact flavours that are boosted to another, higher level by the dish being festooned with many ginger strands and discs of fresh, green chilli.

The chicken pieces are quite bony, and some of our party get more meat than others, but this is a beauty.

 

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We get one each of the regular and garlic naans ($1 each, both pictured above) – they’re OK but unusual in that they’re more like flat bread than most naan we eat.

I prefer the chapati ($1, not pictured) we also order.

 

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On earlier, reconnaissance visit by myself, I enjoyed the very affordable ($9.95) chicken biryani – it’s a rather dry version, but the flavours are all there, the raita joined in this case by a plate of salad veg instead of the more usual gravy.

Sadia tells us that much praise for her cooking was often attended by suggestions she should start a restaurant.

We’re glad she’s spreading some of that love around.

Especially given the low prices and welcoming, low-key ambience.

Thanks to Nat Stockley for help with the pics.

 

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Indian surprise

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Ethnic India, 4/2-6 Kilmur Road, Hoppers Crossing. Phone: 9369 4133

Ethnic India is located on the Golden Mile in Hoppers Crossing, on one of the light industrial/commercial precincts that are offshoots of it.

When I Bennie and I arrive for our Sunday lunch, I get a surprise.

I’d visited on my own several months previously for a quick look and lunch.

At that time, I reckoned Ethnic India must have been easily the biggest Indian restaurant in Melbourne, taking up a whole warehouse.

Through the use of screens and such like, efforts had been made to create a separate restaurant space from the bar, functions rooms, kitchen and so on.

But, basically, it was a huge space.

What Bennie and I find is quite different.

The proprietors have pretty much created a building within a building – all the same facilities remain but they are much more strictly defined.

 

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They include a restaurant space that is the typical flash of some Indian places – including tall-backed chairs so lavishly cushioned that, upon sitting, you feel like you are sinking almost until your chin rests on the table.

On this day, there are a heaps of guests arriving for a catered birthday party out back, but we are the only restaurant guests.

The very long menu (see below) is presented on both sides of two wooden paddles.

We proceed to enjoy a fine light lunch.

Onion bhaji ($8.50, top photograph) are less like the Indian-style onion rings we are expecting and more like pakoras.

They’re good, though, and nicely moist. We take two of them home for Bennie’s next-day school lunch.

 

 

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Cholle bhature is also very good, if a bit pricey at $15 for a snack-style offering.

The chick peas are excellent – they seem fresher than is often the case with this dish and are mildly spiced.

The breads are a tad oily but hot and fine.

 

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The price is ameliorated somewhat by the $15 deal also including this salted “Punjabi style” lassie.

 

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I was fascinated to read this story about biryanis – I had no idea there are so many varieties!

I wish more of them were available in Melbourne!

I think the mostly uniform biryanis we eat in and around West Footscray are of the Hyderabad kind.

The Ethnic India lamb biryani ($15) is a significant contrast.

All is different from what we are familiar with – the seasoning (mild chilli levels); the colour; the inclusion of many currants, cashes and green capsicum pieces; lamb chunks not on the bone but instead of the kind you’d find in a regular curry – most welcome!

There’s a hefty serve of raita on the side to complete a solid offering.

Ethnic India is well worth a try – and parking is a breeze.

 

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Meal of the week No.29: Bollywood Sweet Bazaar

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Bollywood Sweet Bazaar has been open a couple of months at shop 2/49 Synnot Street, Werribee, specialising in “pure ghee sweets” and a colourful Bollywood theme.

But they do savory snacks and the like, too.

Top of the list is this puri aloo sabzi for $9.

How good is it for $9?

Three rather doughy but very nice puris, a runny but good chick pea curry, yogurt adorned with puffed rice, pickle and a super potato/onion curry seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves and fresh coriander.

It’s a righteous, bargain-priced flavour blast.

I’m betting the two pieces of chocolate barfi I depart with are the good, too!

 

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Nice Indian mix, great prices

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Chutneys, 8/1 Elgar Road, Derrimut. Phone: 8361 7588

There’s Indian food in the Derrimut area, but this new place Chutneys is worthy of celebration because it’s the first of its kind there.

No butter chicken at this place.

But there is Indo-Chinese, biryanis, dosas, chaat dishes, uttapams and thalis – all at very cheap prices and served up in friendly cafe-style premises (see menu below).

 

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Vegetarian thali hits the spot with its recipient, CTS pal Marnie, who works her way through the lot …

Sambar (as served with dosas), dal, a suitably mushy vegetable curry with good knobs of cauliflower and a very good dry carrot curry.

There’s raita and a papadum joining the rice and the deal is sealed with some good, sweet halva.

Nice job for $10.95.

My vegetable uttapam ($10.95, top photograph) is just as good.

The “pizza” is fresh, hot and moist in its centre, and goes just right with the same accoutrements served with dosas and idlys.

 

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On an earlier visit with the Nat Stockley crew, our choices run to the Indo-Chinese portion of the menu.

The prawn noodles ($14.95) are a highlight – fresh, light and expertly cooked with as little oil as the kitchen could get away with.

 

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The pepper chicken ($11.95) is another good ‘un and very tasty.

 

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For our other choices we select from the “wet” Indo-Chinese options with somewhat mixed results.

The chilli fish ($13.95) is lovely, but …

 

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… the chilli chicken ($11.95) and …

 

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… gobi Manchurian ($11.95), while also enjoyable, have a certain sameness about them in terms of seasoning, texture and flavour.

Still, these are small quibbles given the prices and location.

Chutneys will doubtless become very popular.

Memo to self: When ordering Indo-Chinese, stick with the dry option!

 

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OMG Indian sweets

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Kumar’s Sweets, Shop 3, 85 Mount Derrimut Road, Deer Park. Phone: 8361 7303

After my story about Kumar’s Sweets was published in The Age in October, I thought that was that … next!

However, in the subsequent months, Kumar’s Sweets has become a firm favourite of CTS – meaning it’s high time it had a highly justified post of its own right here!

 

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Look, at Kumar’s you can get typically rich staples of Indian sweetdom, such as barfi or gulab jamun.

You can get, too, a line-up of savoury snacks – often, salty and spicy; always delicious.

 

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But we what REALLY like is a tight line-up of gorgeous and jewel-like Indian sweets largely based on little more than nuts and dried fruit.

That’s right – they could even be loosely labelled as “healthy”; but these are about a gazillion light years in every way from your dreary “health food bars”.

Ugh.

 

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Nope, these – including the wonderful cassata in the top photograph – are something else.

Very highly recommended by CTS.

 

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Footscray’s new spicy place

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Spicy Chef, 359 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7224

This was something of an impromptu CTS gathering that came together very easily.

A spare Sunday night, a new Indian place to try, who’s in?

So it was that six of us gathered with just one aim in mind – to take for a spin the Spicy Chef opening special of biryani, starter, salad and drink for $11.95.

We had good meals but I suspect there’s plenty more to explore at Spicy Chef in the coming weeks and months – certainly the pricing (compared with other Footscray Indian places) is very reasonable on the menu proper across the usual range of curries and dosas.

 

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The best thing about our meal deals was that they were served on thali trays and that constituted excellent all-round meals for one.

Like many people, perhaps even most, I usually struggle to go even close to finishing a regular, inevitably huge serve of biryani.

So having a smaller portion mixing it with a starter and salad (even if it is just some slices of carrot and cucumber) and a drink thrown in is a fine thing.

Perhaps other restaurateurs could take this idea and run with it!

Our biryanis were uniformly fine, with good raita and spicy gravy on the side and enough fried onion strands to make the rice dishes sing.

We mostly chose goat biryani and it was good, with quite a lot of meat that came from the bones quite easily.

The starters didn’t quite reach the same standard but were OK, ranging from onion bhaji (top photograph) to …

 

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… egg bhaji to …

 

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… eggplant fritters to …

 

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… chicken 65.

This latter was Bennie’s choice and he probably did the best of us.

 

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Nice place for Indian

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Dosa Plaza, 20 Adelphi Bvd, Point Cook. Phone: 8334 4100

Dosa Plaza is situated in Soho Village, a small, crammed-in commercial/apartment development just off Sneydes Road.

It’s a lovely place – there’s plenty of light and part of the restaurant looks out on to a small park.

There are Dosa Plaza joints also in Camberwell, Preston and Dandenong, while the company website has a section for those interested in checking out franchise opportunities.

The restaurant’s big strength is that it is entirely vegetarian.

On the other hand, the menu (see below) is so very long that a Sunday lunch for a CTS trio is little more than a snapshot of what is available.

 

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Pani puri ($8) are presented to us as separate components and we have a ball combining them.

The rotund puri are crisp-as yet we easily and without mishap crack holes into each into which the stuff the rice puffs, a superb potato mash and the tamarind sauce.

The result is all-round excellence.

 

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Bennie’s mum orders palak paneer $12), a dish on which she’s a self-professed expert.

She likes this one but it is more creamy than she prefers and lacks a bit of zing.

Her naan is fine though it is soft and pliable rather than crisp.

 

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From the Indo-Chinese selections, Bennie picks “paneer schewzan noodles” ($11.50).

He describes them as being OK and falling somewhere between what one may find in a food court or in one of our fave West Footscray spicy haunts.

 

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My Punjabi thali ($13.50) looks a treat but ultimately disappoints.

The best of it are a lovely raita, the rice with peas and a fabulously moreish carrot halva studded with sultanas.

The three curry dishes – the above mentioned palak paneer, a tomato-based vegetable stew and an aduki bean dal – are dull.

 

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We enjoy our time at Dosa Plaza even if our food selections mostly fail to wow us.

We can’t help but wonder if there’s greater wonders in that huge menu.

If we lived around here we’d be in this place at least a couple of times a week finding out!

 

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