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.
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
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.
359 Barkly Street, Footscray
Phone: 9687 7224