Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Indo-Chinese zaniness at Pandu's

You know those stories of ghost ships?  Not only spectral vessels like the Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail the sea for all eternity, but ships that are found drifting with their entire crew having vanished without a trace.  For a long time, Pandu's was my ghost ship.  It used to inhabit a bare-bones little spot in Buckley Street in the strip of shops now demolished for the rail link.  Mr Baklover would insist that it was a restaurant, that he had seen people inside eating, drinking and making merry.  Yet every time I drove past it would be empty, and though I craned my neck I could see no signs of life.  "You're going mad!" I told my long-suffering husband.  "There's no restaurant there!"


Very happily I was proven wrong when Kenny checked out Pandu's, reporting an exciting Indian-Chinese menu at prices guaranteed to make even the saltiest sea dog grin from ear to ear.  It closed down and again thanks to Consider the Sauce, we learnt that Mr Pandu would be taking up new deluxe digs where the old Western Mart had been on "Upper Barkly" (if you like).


It was a long time coming but Pandu's is finally open.  It's quite quirky inside, with pimpin' cream lounge suites almost levitating on tinted wooden blocks instead of legs.


There are lots of little nooks and kind of "private rooms".  I can totally see a Bollywood dance scene happening in here, with the star crooning on the table while big wok flames jump out of the kitchen and a flash mob of bodacious Indian babes start grooving seductively.  As it stands, though, the only sound is the hum of the kitchen extraction fan, and the lack of colour makes it feel a bit like a bunker.  With some art or other decoration on the walls and a banging sound system, there's great potential here for a very cool hang-out spot.

Indian Chinese is the result of Chinese restauranteurs in India adapting their cuisine for local tastes.  According to this quite authoritative article from CNN Go, the Chinese Hakka community has been resident in Calcutta since the 1700s.  Thus began the authenticity acrobatics which see migrant communities all over the world begin to adapt traditional recipes for local palates.  As author Sanjiv Khamgaonkar puts it, "Quick to figure out that Indians love spicy, oily preparations, the Chinese merely masala-fied and greased their cuisine into a glutinous, winning combination".


That's extremely matter of fact (and rather unappealing) but it's essentially Indian Chinese in a nutshell - take (sometimes vaguely) Chinese recipes like battered chicken and fried rice and add Indian flavours like curry leaves, spices, tomato, chilli, plus a generous helping of soy sauce.

July to Sep 093
An example at Chilli India, CBD

Oh, put those eyebrows down!  I know it sounds horrible, but I am a big fan.  Aangan in West Footscray do great Indian Chinese like gobi Manchurian - battered cauliflower florets in a dark, almost sticky sauce with onion and green capsicum, and Chicken 65 - battered chicken tossed with an intense, spicy red sauce, cashews and glistening green curry leaves.  Aangan are known for their Indian Chinese and it's what you'll see many Indian customers enjoying, rather than what we might see as "the classics" like butter chicken and Rogan Josh.

Cashew milk, $3.95

But anyway - onto Pandu's!   A liquor licence is in the works, so while waiting we imbibed this homemade cashew milk.  Holy Bolly(wood), this was delicious.  The honey drizzled down the sides mixed with the cardamom-scented, slightly frothy milk for a cooling taste sensation.

Szechwan chicken, $10.95

Just after we ordered, the sweet waitress came back and asked if we wanted our dishes "with sauce".  "Well, yes," we replied, thinking without sauce we might just receive a plate of battered chicken, not unlike KFC opposite.  This was a big mistake as instead of those wonderful intense, reduced sauces I'm used to, our Indian Chinese morsels came in a lake of glutinous sauce.  This Szechwan chicken was quite nice but the sauce - very thick tomato - was overpowering.

Cauliflower Manchurian, $8.95

Likewise the gobi Manchurian, battered cauli in a moat of sweet brown sauce, lacked that intense flavour punch I covet.  Moral - make sure you have your choices "dry" or "without sauce".  Check out Kenny's more successful visit for how your dishes should look.


Sometimes I want something but I can't order it because I can't bear to say the words.  The very hip "magic" falls into this category - it's a double ristretto in a 3/4 cup and is quite a lovely drink (especially for single origins) but every time I try to say, "I'll have a magic, please", the hipsterese jams in my throat.  Likewise, don't you sometimes see things on a menu and have such a giggle that you simply have to have them?  Ladies and germs, I give you SEVEN JEWELS OF PANDU'S.  This Indian-style fried rice was delicious, each separate grain dusted with turmeric and other spices, and nestling amongst them crunchy almonds, fresh pops of colourful capsicum, juicy egg and nutty nuggets of well-fried chicken.  Yummo.


So unfortunately our Pandu's experience wasn't as good as it could have been, but that was probably our fault for not investigating what "sauce" entailed (it's probably served like that because they figured we were having rice and wanted to have lots of sauce to wet the rice - a really southern Indian thing to do).  "Indian barbecue" is coming soon, plus the liquor licence.  Good on you, Captain Pandu, and looking forward to climbing aboard your love boat again soon!

Pandus on Urbanspoon

Pandu's Indo-Chinese Restaurant
351 Barkly Street, Footscray
Phone:  0468 378 789

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  1. James In FootscrayAugust 1, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    Funny about the liquor licence. I asked about this in the old location and they said 'in two weeks' - but in six months it hadn't eventuated. A few weeks ago in the new location they also said 'in two weeks'. Somehow it seems like a ruse!

    (Not that I'm obsessed with liquor licences or anything!)

    1. Interesting! Maybe it's like that quirk, I can't remember if it's in Indian or Japanese culture, that if you ask someone for directions and they don't know, they will never say "I don't know, sorry" but will give you an elaborate made-up route to save face that they didn't know the way. Rather than disappoint with a blanket "no", maybe they say "soon"! Then again, I know other businesses have gone through such a struggle to get a licence - Besito took forever and it only eventuated with multiple semi-irate calls to the council. Apparently the police are somehow involved in the process so that probably all contributes to making the wheels of bureaucracy grind incredibly slowly.

  2. James In FootscrayAugust 1, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Yes indeed, it may well be a council bureaucracy issue!

    But we did have some funny issues with communication - in particular, we couldn't get a straight answer on what something was. It felt very much like they didn't want to tell us. Maybe the chef didn't want to give away a secret recipe? Maybe we were annoying to keep asking?

    I'm not complaining though, the whole Pandu's experience was memorable!

    1. Hmm, that's interesting too. Maybe it was a "you won't like it" deal. I remember going to Khartoum Centre in Footscray and ordering all this crazy stuff like slimy molokhia soup and fava bean dip and the waitress saying (not unkindly) "this is African food. You won't like it", which made me even more determined to lick every bowl dry!

      Bit odd though. Maybe the full menu wasn't happening at that stage and they didn't want to say so lest they look not fully competent?

      Certainly a memorable experience! PS, we need to do our Roly Poly dumplings soon. I'll chase up Kenny to see if he had any joy. If not that, then somewhere else equally obscure!

    2. Tried to have a word with them about a week ago but they were closed. Will try again Friday.

  3. Hrmmm... Even though your experience could've been better but I'm still very keen to try. Maybe cause this is the type of food that I feel most comfortable with and enjoy most. Plus, there really is no way you can deny a good fried rice, no. Will def round up the troops to head over for this one. Thanks, Lauren! Hope you have an awesome start to the week =D

    1. Hi Winston, for your first intro to Indian Chinese I reckon try Aangan, just a km or so down the road. I can recommend it with more confidence - we've been getting Gobi Manchurian and Chicken 65 as our regular takeaway order for literally years!!!

  4. Hi Lauren, this is not relevant to the current post but would you be able to recommend some places in Footscray or Richmond that serves good Bun bo xao with Lemongrass beef, I had over it the weekend at Indochine in Boxhill and it was nice but I think Footscray or Richmond would have even better ones. Thank you!

    1. Oh, with pleasure Felicia! Bun bo xao xa ot was the first Vietnamese dish I fell in love with. I was so obsessed with it, I only ordered it for, like, a year. My favourite version was at Thanh Thanh in Victoria Street Richmond but that was literally 8 or 9 years ago so I have no idea if they would still do a good version! The funny thing is, I don't see it around much in Footscray! If memory serves me right, I've only had it once in the west and that was in St Albans and didn't have enough good wok char. I'll keep my eye out in the west, but perhaps try Thanh Thanh as a start!

    2. Thanh Thanh being:

    3. Thank you for the recommendation. I usually order pho tai at any vietnamese restaurant but after having the bun bo xao xa ot on saturday, I am now hooked on the freshness on the dish. I am not a fan of pork but it looks like I might have to give it a go if I go to Footscray for dinner. Where would you recommend for the pork version? or is there even a chicken version haha. Thanks again!

    4. I am obsessed with bun salads - they are the perfect meal in a bowl, fresh, full of veg and a zingy flavour sensation. If it's the "bun" part you love, as in the rice vermicelli with salad and dressing, then just navigate to the "bun" section of any menu and pick what takes your fancy. You'll rarely if ever find a chicken bun salad, but if you do want to avoid pork, you can get prawn spring rolls or another fave of mine, sugarcane prawns, which is kind of prawn mince wrapped around a sugarcane stem and grilled.

      If it's the actual lemongrass and chilli that you love, most places will have a "lemongrass and chilli" section under their big 1001 different dishes section, towards the back of the menu. The most classic way to have it in that section is chicken but I've also had it with squid. Places vary greatly on how well they do it.

      ...No way, I just happened to have Quan Viet's menu on my desk so I was like, "Let's have a look". They have bun bo xao xa ot! But there you go - Quan Viet at 103 South Road, Braybrook looks like it has the goods!

    5. Thank you Lauren for all the wonderful suggestions. I am really excited about exploring all the delicious options now. I have seen sugarcane prawns but have never tried it so this would be an excellent opportunity to do so. I will definitely visit Quan Viet if I am going with a friend who drives but if I am going to Footscray I think I will try the bun salads at Sapa Hills or Pho Tam. I have been researching bun by looking all your blog entries and those two places seem be have really delicious looking bun.


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