“Indian food is way more diverse than most people have been exposed to, and is long due the recognition it deserves,” Shashank Achuta tells Broadsheet. “The main thing I look forward to changing is the unfortunate reputation that Indian food has garnered for being too spicy, oily or even monotonous – there’s so much more to it than butter chicken and biryani.”
This is the main reason why the Indian-born sous chef at Lana, a restaurant that opened shortly before lockdown in the CBD’s heritage-listed Hinchcliff House, decided to launch Sydney Tiffin Room. It’s a food-delivery service showcasing regional, home-cooked Indian cuisine.
“I hope to educate my clients about this diversity influenced by geographical, socio-economic, spiritual [factors], and even the many foreign colonisers of India over the centuries,” says Achuta.
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Each order comes with three courses and two sides, feeding two people for $70. Every few weeks Achuta changes the menu to transport diners to a different city or region of India. His debut menu highlighted the coastal town of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), which was colonised by the French until the mid-20th century. It featured dishes such as eral masala vadai – king-prawn-and-lentil fritters with burnt-onion-and-turmeric chutney, plus prawn-head oil for “extra prawniness”. There was also a duck and poppy seed curry served with rice cooked in ghee, which Achuta describes as “chicken curry on steroids”, because the flavours are “so in your face”.
“Poppy seeds are believed to have medicinal properties, not to mention they’re super nutty and work great as a natural thickening agent. Coconut and poppy seeds are best friends and will literally elevate any curry to the next level,” he says.
His next menu headed to Goa, a state on India’s western coastline that was colonised by the Portuguese for more than four centuries and has a seafood-heavy cuisine. Those dishes included semolina-crusted Spanish mackerel served with a zingy coriander sauce, and a slow-cooked beef short-rib vindaloo. There was even a Portuguese-influenced dessert called serradura – or sawdust pudding – made with brown-butter shortbread cookies and coffee-infused whipped cream with crème fraîche mixed into it.
This week, he’s gone to Kerala, where coconut and seafood are hallmarks of the local cuisine. The menu includes arikadukka (fried mussels stuffed with rice and coconut); a coconut-chicken curry with rice pancakes; and coconut pudding with salted-jaggery caramel for dessert (jaggery is a type of cane sugar).
All the recipes Achuta uses can be attributed to his mum, who has been his biggest influence in the kitchen. He also harnesses the knowledge of produce, flavour and technique he’s learned working in top Australian kitchens such as Attica, Restaurant Hubert, Fred’s and Cafe Paci.
“We grew up in a house where every meal was an experience, and Mum always managed to effortlessly make food special and nutritious – meals were never just about nourishment. As a result, I grew up with an intimate relationship with food,” he says.
Achuta is hopeful that Sydney Tiffin Room will be its own restaurant one day, adding that his mum has already volunteered to come and train the chefs.
Orders can be made via Instagram or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Sydney Tiffin Room delivers within a 15-kilometre radius of Ryde, excluding local government areas of concern. Sydney-wide delivery is also available through Didi Delivery, with fees calculated based on average estimates provided by the delivery service.