During a recent trip to Sydney my husband took me to a surprise dinner at Indu restaurant that served Indian village food in Sydney. Knowing I like fresh country food, he decided we should find out what Indian village food in Sydney is like. Sam Price, owner of Indu, had been a volunteer aid worker with a medical team in India. When his team went about providing free medical care, the grateful villagers they helped, would often invite them to their homes for traditional Indian meals.
Sam was quoted to have said in an interview: “It just dawned on me that you can’t really experience this food anywhere else in the world and that Indian food is essentially colonialised…the butter chickens and naans in the world don’t exist in the villages cause in terms of preparation it’s almost impossible.
“What they do eat is healthier, its fresh, it makes use of local produce in a lot of the coastal areas we were working in. It’s the kind of food that people don’t experience in the Western world. They were quite healthy people, they were slim and lived for a long time.”
I can’t argue with that. I am a huge proponent of fresh food.
To my delight there were items on the menu such as string hopper, popular in Sri Lanka and certain Kerala style dishes which are just not served in restaurants. String hopper is traditional village food consisting of rice flour pressed into noodle form & then steamed. The only place I could ever get this even in Malaysia was from a street vendor who would carry them in a large silver vessel at the back of his motorcycle. His mother made them early in the morning so they were freshly made when he sold them. Yum! It is not commercially feasible for restaurants to make these and so they are only made at home.
Even dosa which I make at my house in Australia is not available in most of the Indian restaurants in Sydney because it is South Indian and these restaurants serve North Indian cuisine. I also feel it is because dosa needs to be eaten freshly cooked and cannot be kept which is why even in Malaysia, from where I come, it is offered only for breakfast and rarely even for dinner. So it is a treat to have Indian village food in Sydney.
Indu has the the ambiance of a village too with huge ceramic pots containing spices lined up alongside the passage leading to the dining hall. Traditional brass bells hang down from the ceiling and it’s exciting to see traditional sauces and seasonings I like to call condiments lined up in front of the kitchen counter ready to be transported to the eagerly awaiting diners.
Part of the wonder of village/community food is the small servings of condiments that you normally don’t get in restaurants or have to pay dearly for and most of us don’t want to because they are just bite-size flavourings to enhance the meal. Most people feel it should be complimentary and restaurants probably feel they are too much trouble to make because they can’t charge for them.
On the other hand, many trendy restaurants are serving condiment-size portions of the main meal at exorbitant prices and as this article in the Guardian suggests it is where you find hipsters swanking around. I agree with the article in the Guardian. I don’t care what is trendy. I like my portions large.
When they brought out the Dosa to us at Indu, I was intrigued by this new twist in serving Dosa that took the shape of an Apam (another traditional Sri Lankan food not normally available in restaurants). Dosa is meant to be flat like a plate but Apam is shaped like a bowl. So I called this a Fusion Dosa. This Fusion Dosa came with eggplant pickle, pomegranate pearls, goat’s curd & coconut sambol all carefully arranged separately in the centre of it. Another dish that came out to us that had pomegranate was the Pomegranate & roasted pistachio raita. Another unique modification to the traditional cucumber raita. So it was Indian village food in Sydney but with some modification.
I also had devilled pumpkin with ginger, jalapeño & coconut chutney, crispy eshallots & fresh coconut. Another item on the menu I thought interesting but didn’t try is coconut crusted fresh crab kofta with squid ink & cardamom aioli. Imagine making aioli with squid ink. Hmm….I don’t think so.
What we did try was the cured salmon & prawns, chilli, coriander, tamarind & mint chutney served on a papdi base. I had never heard of papdi until I had it here at Indu. Papdi is like rice crackers. Another appetizer we tried was the lemon rice, crispy lentils, smashed peanuts, green chilli & fresh coconut.
I’ll give Indu a thumbs up for originality and novelty, but I’m afraid the portions were too small. Much like the trendy fine dining restaurants that attract the hipster crowd. I’m sorry, I like a good portion of my meals 🙂