In a city that prides itself on cuisines from all over the globe, it’s surprising to see that despite the popularity of Indian food, there are very few Indian restaurants. In fact, even in 2013, Indian food is often seen as little more than a cheap takeaway option.
Chaat Corner is no exception really. A humble market-stall on the fringes of Dandenong’s colourful food market, it is one of only a few western Indian food offerings in all of Melbourne. Hailing from the typically hot, dry climates in and around the Rajasthan and Gujarati regions, this style of food is spicy and mostly vegetarian (due to the largely Hindu population), often served as a large thaali plate with various vegetable curries, rice, chapatti and sweets, and accompanied by preserves and pickles.
On a Saturday morning, Dandenong Market is writhing with the activity and chaos market shopping en masse. Around 35,000 shoppers pass through the markets every Saturday and the place is buzzing with people of all manner of cultural backgrounds. Known as the ‘world market’, it’s the heart of this outer suburb and a goldmine for home cooks and chefs alike looking for exotic ingredients, inspiration and cheap produce from over 180 stalls.
Among a plethora of fresh food vendors, butchers, florists, fishmongers and the strains of buskers dotted around the periphery, Chaat Corner is positioned on the corner of one of the market’s main thoroughfares, with street frontage on Cleeland Street.
Fronted by a bain-marie filled with curries and rice dishes, as its name suggests Chaat Corner specialises in chaat, a term given to savoury snacks like those you might find at stalls and food carts that line the roads in Mumbai. More specifically, chaat often refers to a delicate pastry case filled with potato and served with natural yoghurt and tomato relish – the stall’s signature dish.
Owned and run by husband-and-wife team Chintan Shan and Amiben Parikh, Chaat Corner is serving paneer puffs and making them too, offering very modestly priced market food with big flavours, warm spice and no meat.
Though Chaat Corner is little more than a small eatery with two canteen-style service areas and only a handful of tables, it offers a huge menu that includes over 35 vegetarian dishes and everything is under $10. In addition to the traditional Indian food at Chaat Corner (veggie curries, biryani, dahl and milky desserts), Shan and Parikh are fusing cuisines, with Indo Chinese dishes of Manchurian crispy noodles and deep fried veggie balls alongside Western-influenced fare, like Kacchi Dabeli (the ‘Indian sandwich’) – a burger bun filled with curried beans and coriander.
It’s a fresh take on Indian food in a very informal setting, and buried in amongst the colour and life of Dandenong Market. But it’s a chance to trade in the morning cafe queue for something with more kick. Go on a suburban weekend adventure for Indian street food with good chaat.
Cleeland Street, Dandenong
Fri & Sat 8am–8pm
Dandenong Market is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 7am–4pm.