Serving Up The Spices Of Gujarat On A Thali

Tucked in a corner at East Malvern, Gujju’s Cafe is a small non-descript eating joint. But the cafe’s ethnically Gujarati flavoured food has earned it patrons including the likes of Masterchef judge Matt Preston. In fact, Preston has paid a tribute of the daal at Gujju’s Cafe. “Forget that bland sludge in bad vego places; here it’s a dark, almost soup-like consistency. Curry leaves, mustard seeds and a pinch of fragrant asafoetida make it a savoury dish but a wad of Indian jiggery gives it an unusual, heady sweetness.”

But it is just not the daal that the place serves. The daal is among the tastes on the ‘all-you-can-eat’ thali tray. Gujju’s Cafe also specialises in chaat, which is a street food speciality in India. From 15 types of chaat, the cafe is now introducing 21 types in its new stylised menu that has specially been made in Gujarat.  There is Papdi chaat, Spicy Papdi chaat, Aloo chaat, Jamanagari chaat, Samosa chaat, Dahi Delhi chaat, Mathura chaat, to name a few.  And as the names would suggest, the chaats have a regional flavour.

The thali set menu are Gujarati gravy dishes such as Surti Undiyu, a traditional curry of Muthiya (fried chickpea dumplings), Mutter Paneer (green peas cottage cheese), Ringna Batata nu Shaak (eggplant-potato curry), or Ringan no Ohloh (smoked eggplant curry).  The cost of a thali is 17 dollars which includes entrees, mains and desserts. Drinks are not included in the menu and the place is BYO licensed.

Run by 23-year-old Varun Chhabra, Gujju’s Cafe is a mini representation of the vegetarian state in India – Gujarat. Says Chhabra, who attributes his business acumen to his grandfather and father both of whom were restaurateurs’ at one point of time, “We focus on quality and authenticity. We try to blend in the flavours of the four regions of Gujarat – North Gujarat, Kathiawad, Kutch and South Gujarat.”

With a limited capacity of 30 seats, Gujju’s Cafe does brisk business most days and weekends are packed. Perhaps that speaks why the place has found a mention in the Australian Veg Food Guide 2008, and also managed to secure a place in the service category of the 2011 Australian Excellence Award.

With growing numbers of people interested in eating more vegetarian meals, Chhabra believes he has tapped a growing niche in the market. As customers Cindy and Michael put it, “It’s not the cheapest thali around, but it’s more than just a simple thali – it’s an all you can eat feast! Every few minutes the friendly staff stopped by our table offering us more roti, more fried treats, more curry, more soup. They looked disappointed when we could not eat more. To sum things up: this place is a hidden jewel.”

It is Gujarat at a glance, affirms Chhabra, a statement boldly marked in his new ethnically designed menu.

By Indira Laisram

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