Well, at least I have Chilli India. Tables crammed into the tiny passageway leading into Melbourne Central, buzzing late at night, it's as close to an authentic hawker centre I'm gonna get anytime soon!
The only eat-in area at Chilli India is sort of outside, yet under the covered walkway. It's packed with students, smoochy couples and big families tucking into silver-trayed thalis. As we sat, there was a non-stop, steady stream of hungry people queuing to order at the register. You can still have friendly, efficient table service and they will bring you booze from the main Chillipadi next door.
Right next to the register is a huge flat-plate BBQ where this rockstar chef whips up dosa and freshly-made roti before your beady eyes. MMMMMMM!
The drawcard here is not only the freshly-made Malaysian-Indian street food but the biryani. Commenter Make Best West had informed me that the biryani at Dosa Hut is far from the real deal and indeed "the worst biryani I ever had. I can say that because I hail from the land of biryani (Hyderabad) and this place is making a mockery of such a beautiful cuisine. Authentic biryani is light in spices and has a nice balance of important ingredients such as yoghurt, mint, lime and golden-coloured fried onions - none of them could be found in this version. This lame version was floating with chillies, cloves, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and less-meat-more-bone cheap meat."
Special Hyderabadi dum biryani (chicken)
I am always up for being corrected and when the suggestion is this good, I am profoundly grateful. This was a very special biryani. The rice grains are totally separate, non-greasy and underneath are pieces of supremely tender marinated chicken. I still detected hints of spice but it did indeed have a lemony fragrance. It came with pots of sweet raita and an almost peanutty sauce. As we sat, waiters brought out brass pot after brass pot of this obvious crowd favourite. The chicken could get a bit bony but the flavours were all there.
I love Indian-Chinese food - it is a total mindf**k. Confronted with battered meat or vegies in sauce that looks like bland suburban Chinese food, your head says no, but your heart asks, "Why does it taste so bloody good then?" Indian-Chinese takes the battered nuggets and thick sauce of "bad Chinese" and switches it up with heaps of chilli, tang and spice in true Indian style. This was delicious, really spicy and zingy with green onion and ginger.
Vegetable avial with plain roti and roti Chenai
Avial is a very southern-style curry with fresh vegetables, coconut and yoghurt. This was delicious with fresh, tender broccoli, beans and carrot. The sauce was thick and creamy but not naively, suburbanly so and highlighted with curry leaves and mustard seeds. The breads were fantastic - the Chenai was flakier, more pastry like while the plain was like a well-fried chapati. I find it very hard to eat roti now unless it has been made fresh in house.
I know the Chillipadi brand often divides opinion quite sharply but I thought this meal was fab. Everything was fresh, cheap and tasty, it had a real buzz and we had great, friendly service. I might be cynical about the soon-to-open "Supper Market" but Chilli India is a great street-style option in the meantime.
Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central
Phone: 9669 3866
Phone: 9669 3866
Hours: Mon-Tues 11am-3.30pm, Wed-Sat 11am-3.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm
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