Thursday, January 9, 2014


Vanakkam - Jagadish Venigalla

I first met Jagadish, the owner of Vanakkam, when I wrote a profile on him for my "Signature Dishes of Footscray" series, published on Footscray Life.  He is a humble and lovely man.  I was impressed by his commitment to quality, from-scratch cooking, as well as his generosity of spirit.  He talked about helping a friend open an Indian restaurant just down the road.  I asked if he was worried about losing business to new competitors.  He smiled and said, "If we do our best, we will always get regular customers".  After trying Vanakkam's specialties, I don't think Jagadish needs to fret too much about losing business.


This restaurant's first incarnation was in Nicholson Street, Footscray, in the strip of shops now cut off by the Regional Rail works.  Jagadish was advised that those works were taking place, and decided to relocate in advance to Barkly Street, just over Geelong Road.


Some folk do get a bit confused about what Vanakkam's specialty is.  The name is a Tamil word meaning "welcome", chosen not because Jagadish is Tamil but because he and his business partner simply liked the word.  He is proud to offer confident renditions of south and north Indian fare, plus Indian-Chinese specialties.

Ginger gobi, $13.50

I love Indian-Chinese food.  If you want the absolute real deal, you need to head to Golden Joy in Noble Park, which is run by Jimmy who is an Indian-born Chinese from Calcutta.  It is a real trip to be there among the waving cats and Chinese characters and order gobi Manchurian, battered cauli in sweet-ish soy-based sauce.  Jagadish's signature Indian-Chinese dish is ginger chicken, which starts with a sauce he makes himself by reducing lots of fresh ginger, garlic and soy to make a sticky sauce that hugs battered chicken.  We went for the cauliflower version and it was unreal.

Lamb shukka, $14

We weren't so mad with this second entree - from the menu notes it sounded like it would be drier, but it was quite wet - chunks of lamb in a thick, tangy sauce, with lots of onion on the side.  Nice but just not what we were after.

Murgh dum ki biryani, $12

But the main event, and what Vanakkam is best known for, is its authentic Hyderabadi-style biryani.  This is a delicate balancing act in which marinated chicken or goat is cooked with rice, spices and a very precise amount of water in a sealed pot.  It's hard to get right and not end up with gluggy rice and dry meat.


Vanakkam's biryani is simply gorgeous, the rice infused with whole spices and fragrant chicken flavour, and the chicken itself tender and delicious, still clinging to its marinade amid all the al dente white and yellow grains.  A tender boiled egg, the contrast of bitey raw and crisp fried onion, plus a bit of raita and Jagadish's special curry sauce - YUM.


Vanakkam has become my go-to spot for Indian eat in and take away.  The eat-in side could be a bit more atmospheric - it's often quiet and there's no music to fill in the gaps.  But it has a nice new coat of silver paint and the food is worth it.


While you're paying the bill, be sure to get some mukhwas, aka Indian breath freshener, made of sugar-coated fennel seeds and other goodies.  Just pour a spoonful into your palm and shoot it back.

Above Vanakkam's door is a sign that reads, "Cherish yesterday.  Dream tomorrow.  Live today".  I could be cute and say it's all about yesterday, tomorrow and today's biryani dinners, but no matter what you want to apply to it, I think it's a beautiful philosophy to bring to any moment - day, month or year.

Vanakkam on Urbanspoon

359 Barkly Street, Footscray
Phone: 9687 7224


  1. Oh, how we love Vanakkam's biryanis! And AFAIK, they still do a $10 special of them on Tuesday nights.

    1. I neglected to say above that I need to thank YOU for directing me to the fine biryani!

  2. We are always on the look-out for a great Hyderabadi Biryani. My mother-in-law grew up in Hyderabadi, and according to my husband, she cooks the best biryani. I know nothing will match this - but if we could find a restaurant that came close we would be devoted regulars! Looking forward to trying Vanakkam sometime soon.

    1. Please let me know how you go, Naomi! Some of the most heated comments I've read, be it on this blog, on others or on Urbanspoon, are about biryani. It is obviously a serious business!


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