“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul”.

Coming as I do from an Indian/Pakistani background, I make a point of avoiding eating at Indian/Pakistani restaurants when I’m out and about. Why should I pay good money for food I can make at home (or eat at my mother-in-law’s house lol) for free?! But when it comes to Aangan Indian Restaurant, those rules go out the window. Aangan’s food is… wait for it… BETTER than your mama used to make. Yeah I said it!

Last night we made one of many trips back to Aangan for a family dinner. As usual, the place was packed, and most of the diners were brown people – always a good sign! We sat in the beautiful beer garden at the back of the restaurant, which is furnished with interesting artefacts from the motherland. Like this rickshaw!

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Now, to the food! For entrée you cant go past the chaat menu. Aangan has recently updated its menu and introduced chaat share platters. We ordered papdi chaat and samosa chaat, which was, in short – AMAZING, and one of the main reasons we return to Aangan so frequently.

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Papdi chaat is a street food comprised of a bed of chickpeas, topped with yoghurt, red onion, coriander, mint, chilli green chutney, tamarind chutney and crunchy pastry pieces or ‘papdis’. Samosa chaat is basically the same thing, except instead of chickpeas, the bed of the dish is a samosa. Papdis are not present in samosa chaat. When made well, chaat is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, with a pleasing variety in textural quality. Aangan achieves this balance of textures and flavours perfectly. The crunch of the pastry and onions, and the heat of the chillies contrast beautifully with the creamy coolness of the yoghurt. Heavenly! I am fairly certain I could eat papdi and samosa chaat every day for the rest of my life and die happy.

Service is always friendly and eager to please at Aangan and tonight was no exception. Our waitress was quick to clear our plates after entrée and provide us with fresh cutlery and crockery, all the while asking us if we were happy with the meal. For mains, we ordered chilli garlic fish, lamb kohlapuri, chicken kadhai and chicken tikka butter masala, accompanied with butter naan.

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All the curries were delicious and had their own distinct flavours. Most indian restaurants have curries which all taste like theyre cooked using the same curry paste, but not here. The kadhai chicken was delicious, tender chicken meat with fresh capsicum. The chilli garlic fish was particularly impressive, a fusion of Indian and Asian flavours served on a sizzling plate. We ordered our food with ‘medium’ spice, which was perfect for our tastes. The naan is beyond amazing, chewy and soft and deliciously buttery. While we didnt order it on this occasion, I have in the past ordered garlic naan from Aangan which is even better. The only thing I will say is that the naan is best eaten hot, as it gets stale really quickly, so its not ideal for takeaway.

Now while I have mostly positive things to say about Aangans’ food and service, when it comes to the Halal-O-Meter, the restaurant unfortunately doesn’t score too highly. The restaurant is fully licensed with an extensive drinks menu. Bollywood music plays softly in the background, and while the restaurant does advertise as serving only halal meat, when I asked waiters if I could see their halal certificate, I was advised that they didn’t have one on premises, and that their meat was purchased from the halal butcher across the road, and the butcher did have a certificate. Sure enough, there is a halal butcher right across the road, but it was closed, so I wasn’t able to confirm the waiters’ advice. Nonetheless, being the trusting little foodie that I am, I gave Aangan the benefit of the doubt, but I am not sure their word alone would be enough to satisfy the more pedantic Muslim diner.

To conclude, I rate Aangan as follows:

FOOD: 9/10 – the best Indian food in Melbourne.

AMBIENCE: 8/10 – classy – nicely decorated, and the outdoor beer garden is perfect for functions or romantic summer nights. Indoors it can get quite crowded and noisy though.

SERVICE: 9/10 – friendly and attentive waiters

HALAL-O-METER RATING: 2/10 – meat is claimed to be halal but no certificate on premises. Alcohol is served on premises. Bollywood music is played through a television both indoors and out.

Aangan on Urbanspoon

“The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a star.”

So I spent the better half of my last post hating on Melbourne for failing to match Sydney’s kebab-making prowess, so it’s only fitting that today I focus on Melbourne’s’ strengths. Of which, I am pleased to say, there are many! One thing I’ve noticed about Melbourne’s halal dining scene is that it has achieved a level of sophistry which is, if not missing, then certainly less prominent, in Sydney. We might not have mastered the art of the humble kebab, but we have numerous restaurants serving up fancier, middle-eastern inspired fare. What we lack in garlic sauce smothered chicken shish, we make up for in skewered quails, topped with roasted nuts and poached quince. Basically, Melbourne food is the cooler, classier big sister to Sydney’s glitzier, eager to please, less mature teenager. But, like all little sisters, sooner or later Sydney will catch a whiff of a Melbourne home-grown trend, and follow suit! Imitation is after all, the greatest form of flattery.

African food is a trend I really REALLY hope Sydney catches onto, sooner rather than later. Last weekend I discovered African food for the first time, since the cuisine as a dining option is virtually non-existant in Sydney. But Melbourne is dotted with them, some good, some bad. Let me introduce you to the very best of the good!

Welcome to the Abyssinian.

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The Abyssinian serves food from the Horn of Africa, namely Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Not that this meant anything to me by way of helping me know what to expect, since I had never eaten African food of any kind before. But I love trying new things, and the menu looked exciting, so when a dear friend suggested we dine there, I jumped at the chance.

Since I wanted to have a taste of as many items on the menu as I could without ordering 50 things, I decided to go with the chef’s platter, which is a platter of injera bread topped with serves of 8 different curries/lentils. I had been warned about the size of this dish, but I was confident in my stomachs’ capacity for eating ridiculous amounts of food in a single sitting.

I was wrong.

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As you can see, this serve is big enough for two people to quite easily share. I really struggled to get through the plate, and only managed to finish about half of it before my belly protested and gave up. My inability to finish the dish has nothing to do with the quality – in fact, the only way I was able to even finish half of what was in front of me was because I loved everything I was eating and didn’t want such amazing food to go to waste.

My friend, who is wiser than myself through both intellect and experience, was smart and ordered a single dish, which she managed to finish easily. She ordered the Dorho Zighini, which is a chicken casserole slow cooked with berebere sauce and served with a boiled egg and plentiful injera.

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Eating with my hands shouldn’t be a novel experience for a person of Indian/Pakistani background, but it felt like it at the Abyssinian, mainly because of the soft texture of the bread. The bread is called injera, and resembled the indian dosa, only its thicker, almost like a pancake. Its very light, and you can eat heaps of it without getting that heavy feeling you get from eating other breads. My only issue with the bread is that it is served on the bottom of the dish, and the curries are placed directly ontop of it, which means that the bread becomes incredibly soggy and difficult to hold in your hands. It becomes less of an instrument with which to pick up curry, and more of a rice – it broke up so much that by the end of it I was basically picking up curry directly with my fingers with mushed up bread inside. This led to my hands smelling like curry for hours afterwards, despite washing them thoroughly at least five times.

Moving past the bread, the curries themselves were delicious. There was a serve of sweet potato curry, which tasted quite similar to indian curries but with milder chilli. There was a piece of lamb on the bone which looked like it had been boiled in a spiced broth – the meat was tender and tasted good. There was also dry fish curry and a chicken curry gravy, and two different kinds of lentils. In addition to all this, there was a beef curry and spicy chickpeas with onions. All the dishes were tasty and flavoursome, and each had its own discernable taste. The texture of the curries was very similar to indian curries, but the unique spices used made all the difference. The chilli was quite mild across the board, so for those that prefer a bit more of a kick, my friends dish of the Dorho Zighini was significantly spicer, and comes highly recommended.

Service was good, attentive and friendly, and they were kind enough to give us a table even though we arrived without a booking. Unfortunately, this is another one of those restaurants which serve halal food but don’t have a halal certificate. The other downside for more strict Muslims is that the premises do serve alcohol and play music. For these reasons, the restaurant scores relatively low on the Halal-O-Meter. Personally I like having music playing in the background when I’m eating, and the Abyssinian plays some mellow African beats which added to the relaxed, chilled-out atmosphere of the place. And I cant fault the restaurant for its food quality and service – both were fantastic. I will definitely be revisiting the Abysinian, and would highly recommend it to others. Next time I go, I would probably order 1 platter between two people, and would ask that the bread be served separately to avoid it’s getting soggy. It might not be totally authentic if I do that, but I make my own rules!

The Abyssinian.

FOOD: 8/10 – delicious, but disappointed with soggy bread

AMBIENCE: 8/10 – relaxed vibe with good music

SERVICE: 8/10 – friendly waiters, helpful and explained the dishes to us

HALAL-O-METER RATING: 2/10 – meat is claimed to be halal but no certificate on premises. Alcohol is served on premises. Music is played.

The Abyssinian on Urbanspoon

“Keep calm, and have a kebab”

Okay, so let’s get something straight. Melbourne might well be the foodie capital of Australia, but one thing that it absolutely sucks at is making a decent kebab. Understand that when Im talking about kebabs, I am most certainly NOT referring to a doner kebab – those rolled up sandwiches made with soggy Lebanese bread, stuffed with shavings of reheated pseudo meat and some sad looking lettuce. No – when I’m craving a kebab, what I want is real pieces of tender meat grilled to blackened perfection, accompanied by fresh, fluffy naan bread, and a pot of hummus so good you could quite happily drown yourself in it. It is on this point that the balance tips in Sydney’s favour – there is simply no Melbourne equivalent of the many sensational kebab joints dotted across Sydney. Granted, Melbourne’s Sydney Rd does suffer from an oversaturated market in middle-eastern food, but even the most popular joint on that strip is nowhere near comparable to Sydney kebabs in terms of the quality and tenderness of the meat, and its flavour (yes – I’m looking at you Tibas… urgh). Since the humble kebab is the soul food of the Muslim world, I have to say that discovering this fact after moving to Melbourne was nothing short of devastating.

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Thankfully, this deep, personal tragedy was shortlived, with the discovery of a local Afghan restaurant just around the corner in sunny Sunshine! For a long time, the closest Afghan restaurant to my house was located in Coburg (a little place called Salahteen’s which I highly recommend – not the fanciest of places but food speaks for itself), which meant that a thirty minute drive was required to satisfy my craving for a mixed grill. But no more! ALL HAIL THE AFGHANS

Afghan Master Kebab is located on 3/20 Devonshire Rd, Sunshine. I caught wind of its recent opening when I saw the restaurant featured on Footscray Food Blog, and knew I had to try it. I went there on a weeknight straight from work. There’s plenty of parking to be found in the carpark across the road to the restaurant, right behind the fruit and vegetable markets. This is what the restaurant looks like:

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As you can see, this is a place which values substance over style. It’s a small space, probably wouldn’t fit more than 40 people at a stretch. The interior décor, while not sophisticated, has a quaint charm to it. This is not one of those restaurants where you are greeted and seated as you enter – there were no waiters, you just walk straight up to the counter and tell them what youre after. The gentleman behind the counter was very sweet, and happily took my order of 1 kabuli pulao to eat in, and a mixed grill for takeaway. The pulao came straight away, as it had already been cooked and was in a heated bain-marie ready to be served. The pulao comes with your choice of chicken or lamb korma (I chose chicken) and a salad.

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My first impression of the pulao was that it wasn’t really a pulao at all, not in the traditional sense. Pulao is generally a complete meat comprised of rice cooked with meat, topped with ghee-fried julienned carrots and plump sultanas, and its appeal lies in the fact that each mouthful of rice has a delicious meaty taste, perfectly married with the gentle sweetness of the carrots and sultanas. This pulao was basically boiled basmati, topped with some saffron and mixed with the ghee fried carrots and sultanas. On its own, it tasted very sweet, almost like a dessert rice. However, when accompanied with the chicken korma, the end result was quite satisfying. The korma had a thick, tomato based gravy, lightly peppery, with soft chicken falling from the bones… delicious. My only complaint was that the chicken was slightly overcooked, and that made it hard to discern the bones from the meat as it had all come apart in the bowl.

To be perfectly honest, if the restaurant only served these two dishes, I would be unlikely to return. The real hero of the restaurant is its grilled menu. I ordered a mixed grill takeaway for my husband, which contained a good sampling of the different meats on offer. The grill came with a hot mint chutney, salad, and fresh afghan naan.

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In a word – brilliant. Eating this meal felt like I was back munching shish kebabs under the starry skies of Auburn on a warm night. All meats were beautifully flavoured, juicy and tender, even the lamb. The bread was fluffy and chewy, the chutney added an instant chilli kick.  There is something wonderfully primal about eating food like this with your hands; tearing off chunks of bread, using it to pick up meat, dipping it into the chutney before dropping it into your watering mouth. Amazing food, and great value for money, with the bill totalling $28. If youre ever out west looking for a cheap eat, this place is well worth the trip.

In terms of the restaurants’ rating on the Halal-O-Meter, the restaurant is run by Muslims and no alcohol is served. Decorative Arabic calligraphy adorn the walls of the brightly coloured interior, and the brochures and menu cards for the restaurant unabashedly bear the ‘halal’ logo. Unfortunately, the restaurant loses points for its failure to produce a halal certificate upon request – when asked, the gentleman advised that the food is halal, but that he is waiting to receive the certificate. I took him at his word, but I don’t know if that would be enough to satisfy more pedantic diners.

All in all, I had a thoroughly pleasing experience at Afghan Master Kebabs, and will definitely be back whenever I’m missing Sydney and in dire need of some soul food. I scored Afghan Master Kebabs as follows:

FOOD: 8/10 – delicious, but would be even better if their non-grilled options were improved.

AMBIENCE: 6/10 – it’s a quiet restaurant despite being located on a busy road, with no music.

SERVICE: 6/10 – average – the owner does not speak English, and the English-speaking waiters did not start working until later. I was only able to communicate my order to the gentleman because we both spoke Urdu.

HALAL-O-METER RATING: 8/10 – there is no alcohol on premises, and no music playing in the background. The owners are Muslim. Rating to be bumped up to 10/10 upon attainment of the halal accreditation certificate.

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Afghan Master Kebab on Urbanspoon

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”

Indeed! And who are we to argue with Madame Woolf?

I have started this blog because I am Muslim, I live in Melbourne, and I love to eat! But since Muslims are required to ensure that the food and drink we consume is ‘halal*’ or ‘permissible’, my desire to eat my way through Melbourne is sometimes hindered by a lack of available dining options. While most restaurants these days do cater for specific dietary requirements, there are some which continue to extraordinary lack of alternative menu options for those who wish to abstain from non-halal meat.

Do you ever wish you had known that a restaurant served alcohol before booking in your next Eid family get-together? Have you ever visited a restaurant and eaten the ‘safe’ vegetarian option because you were too shy to ask the owners for their halal accreditation certificate? Are you a Muslim that avoids eating meat when in a non-halal restaurant, and want to know which restaurants have good vegetarian/seafood options?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then the Halal-O-Meter is for you! The Halal-O-Meter is a brilliant invention concocted purely from my own head, of which I am very proud. It aims to simplify the gastronomic experience for Muslims by providing a rating for different restaurants based on their ‘halal-ness’. In determining my rating, I will employ an extremely complex scientific methodology, whereby I, being that I am utterly obsessed with food, will travel far and wide and visit various restaurants of good repute, both halal or otherwise, and review them. While the restaurant will receive an independent review based on general matters like food, ambience etc, the Halal-O-Meter review will be based specifically on matters pertaining to halal/haram food and drink. The review will assess matters such as whether halal meat is provided, whether alcohol is served, and whether restaurants with non-halal meat have a good, tasty range of seafood and vegetarian options available to diners. Restaurants claiming to be halal will be asked to provide a certificate of accreditation, of which I will take a photograph as proof and upload with my review.

That is all! Please post any comments in the comments section below. If you have any requests for restaurants which you would like me to review, post those too. Thank you readers, and happy eating!

The Muslim Gastronomist 🙂

*For those not in the know, halal with reference to food and drink refers to a set of rules which dictate what Muslims can and cannot eat. Forbidden foods and drink include pork and alcohol, and some schools of thought also forbid the consumption of certain types of shellfish. Permitted foods include meat which has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law – meat which has been slaughtered in this way is called ‘halal meat’.