Chatkazz is one of the most unique eating experiences in Sydney. At first, it feels like McDonalds; it’s constantly busy, full of families, everything is under $12 and no one seems to stay for longer than 40 minutes. Then you open the menu and see 20 things you’ve never heard of (if you’re not Indian) and it becomes a much more enticing prospect.
Chatkazz does vegetarian Indian street food; a hearty, unpretentious style of eating markedly different from India’s restaurant cuisine. This style of food is almost entirely ignored by Sydney chefs; Dharmesh Rangparia, owner and chef at Chatkazz, saw the gap and filled it with meals from his childhood. “We are all from Mumbai. It’s Mumbai street food. That’s what we tried to replicate here. That’s what we were missing.” His favourite street snack is the chhole bhatura, fried puffed bread served with a sumptuous chickpea curry, and the pav bhaji, a heavily buttered and utterly basic bread roll, which is torn and then dunked or lathered in a thick, rich, tomato-based curry.
The bread rolls may seem inauthentic and banal to those unacquainted with Indian street food, but they’re commonplace in every Mumbai street market. “It’s the best of the best. It’s one of our most authentic dishes. We used to have it all the time,” says Rangparia. Dabeli has the same buns in burger form. Inside is a mixture of semi-mashed potato, peanuts and dried crunchy noodles with side options of tamarind chutney or light but spicy mint water.
Equally perplexing but satisfying is the north-Indian fast-food staple, Papri Chaat, or “the biscuit mess”. It’s a mound of crisp dough wafers tossed with boiled potatoes, chickpeas, yoghurt and sweet tamarind chutney. Although very common in India, many of the dishes at Chatkazz can’t be found anywhere else, at least not outside Harris Park’s little India. At this stage the menu is particularly daunting because few options have descriptions or pictures. Rangparia admits it can be difficult to know what to order unless you’ve got a good grasp of Indian food. “If they’re Western customers, we tell our staff, spend five, 10 minutes with them. Let them know the items, how they’re going to be, if it’s spicy mild or all kinds of things.” You might feel ignorant but the staff is knowledgeable and friendly.
Although roadside Mumbai fast food is the restaurant’s speciality, Chatkazz has an enormous menu including homages to most of India’s other street-food traditions. Most recognisable of these are dosa, the south Indian fermented crepes made with rice and black-lentil flour. Another popular dish, from the Gujarat region, is khaman dhokla, a savoury chickpea and fermented rice cake that’s steamed and served with Chatkazz’s ubiquitous chutneys. In the future Dharmesh wants to introduce Bombay Chinese, a popular street food he says is particularly loved by Mumbai children.
4/14–20 Station Street East, Harris Park
(02) 8677 0033
Tue to Fri 10am–10pm
Sat & Sun 9am–10pm
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve.