I wrote a quick article about this dosa shop about 6 months ago in May this year. I remember being excited about finding a Dosa shop so conveniently in the city. They're not as easy to find and not all of them make good dosa. I had some from a stall at the Diwali Festival I went to recently in October and the fermented rice pancake was thick. Not light and crispy like the one you get at Purani Delhi Wale. I've been spoilt by the lovely Dosa here that it's become the yardstick I measure the quality of all the others by.
My last visit was rushed as I was on the way to the theatre to catch a show. This time I thought I'd better find out what the exact address and location was and ended up chatting to the owner Sam who happened to be at his small restaurant. You'll be pleased to know I can now direct you to the exact location. The address is 65 Swanston street in the city and it shares the small space with a Dim Sim shop. It's open from 11am to 8pm everyday, 7 days a week. When you get off at Flinders street station and cross Flinders street and get onto Swanston where the pub Young and Jackson is at the corner, you'll find this dosa stand just a little further up the road on the left and next to EB Games. Truth be known it was actually the Lassi on display that stopped me in my tracks. It was ready-made sitting in ice to stay cold and ready to go for $3 a drink. Delicious and quite a variety that includes pistachio, mango, strawberry and almond Lassi . I was told they are promoting the drink hence its high visibility. I had the strawberry and it was packed with real fruit and delicious.
Sam is proud to say he's from 'Old Delhi' and has had this dosa shop for 12 months. The concept was to remain authentic and true to the origins of the food, hawker style. This is the street food of Old Dehli that don't always make the menu at a regular restaurant. Even though there is a variety of other meals that sell for between $8 and $10 a meal, his stall is known for the authentic Pani Puri, Dosa and Chole Bathore (this is the way it's written at the restaurant which differs from Wikipedia) which everyone comes to eat. He said the Pani Puri looked deceptively easy but was one of the most difficult things for the home cook to make. He has been in Melbourne for 38 years and has always worked in the food industry. He tells me he refuses to compromise on authenticity and quality of these classic foods and that in India, families make the same food the same way for generations.
A tiny narrow restaurant that resembles just the type of place you would get street food from.
He owned and ran 12 restaurants over 10 years at one stage but has now relaxed and pared it right down to this one store. Between 2001 and 2007 he actually owned the place where Brunetti now stands not far from the Melbourne Town Hall. His cafe there used to be called Cafe di Capo and he sold it to Brunetti in 2007. He said it was the first cafe you could find in the city when you got off the train at Flinders street station. He also had a restaurant in Russell street in the city called Cafe Baloos from 1990 to 2007. These were two of his better known restaurants/cafe of the 12 he owned and over the years had been written up by the good food guide he mentions.
Preparing fermented dough in a huge industrial kitchen downstairs
He goes on to tell me that Pani Puri is a 'romantic dish', something that the men take their girlfriends and wives out to eat. The Puri is very crispy and light and this particular one was filled with spices. The curry leaf branch sits in the mouth of the bottle and it's stalk is used to stir the spiced sauce to pour into the Puri. Pani meaning water, this sauce is made by mixing tamarind, spices and salt and made into a light and tart liquid with water. It was a very unusual sensation/taste to the uninitiated like me. The Puri is light and crispy and I had to put the whole thing in my mouth after it had been filled with the sauce that had been poured into it. As I crunched down on it the sauce bursts open and filled my mouth and basically tasted like spiced tamarind water. Let's just say it's an acquired taste.
The Masala Dosa on the other hand was light and filled with a potato curry and coconut chutney and a light dhal on the side. As you can see in the picture it's massive and if you're a small eater, one would be enough for two to share. It's not the kind of food you want to buy as a take-away as it would lose it's crispness. Dosa is basically a crispy rice pancake that is made from fermented rice soaked overnight. I have yet to try the Chole Bathore that is a deep fried bread served with spiced chick peas. Sam said the bread dough is made the day before to ferment and the chick pea is soaked for two days. Not compromising in his standards he tells me it takes 48 hours to cook the spices and that some places take the shortcut and spice up the food with chillies instead. To quote Sam, "it's generally the small operators that cook it this way and it makes the product second best and not traditionally correct". The next time you're in the city, say 'hi' to Sam.