Indian curries, pseudo-Chinese dishes, tropical vegetables, drinking snacks, meats and kava, a popular Fijian drink known for its narcotic, dope-like effects. Fiji Style Desi Dhaba serves a crazy array of different dishes and cuisines you’d usually only expect to find at the buffets of upper-middle-range hotels and casinos. Desi Dhaba’s owner, Daya Lal, says the food at his restaurant comes from Fiji’s three main cuisines, native Fijian, Indo-Fijian and Fijian Chinese. Each of the cuisines isn’t completely distinct, though; each mixes the ingredients and traditions from the others to make one varied cuisine.
The first plate delivered to our table is decked with brightly coloured steaming slices of steamed cassava and taro. They taste like extra starchy, flavour-enhanced potatoes. “The taro and cassava is eaten with chop suey,” Lal says. Next dish to the table is a bowl of shredded greens, chicken and fresh vegetables, all swimming in a dark-brown gelatinous soup. That’s the chop suey and with the cassava it’s remarkably reminiscent of Sunday-roast gravy and baked potatoes. It’s unsurprising it’s one of the most popular dishes both at Desi Dhaba and on the streets of Fiji.
The other dish you’ll see on every table at Desi Dhaba is curry. Usually a dark, heavily spiced chicken curry; an orange prawn curry with a mustard flavour; or if it’s a special occasion, Desi Dhaba’s specialty duck curry. Desi Dhaba’s chef (and Lal’s wife) Ranjan Devi Sing (Queen Rani for short) makes all the curries from scratch. They combine ground and roasted masala with the crunch and pop of extra seeds and cassia bark bits. Most of the time curries are ordered Thali-style (south Indian) and come with accompanying rice, dhal, chutney and Queen Rani’s homemade roti.
For breakfast Desi Dhaba sells the soft, chewy roti with egg, vegetables, corned mutton or “tin fish”. If you want to stay true to Fijian trends, ask to get mackerel blended into the roti dough. Lal says the popular snack was once enjoyed solely by the Indian population, but now it’s all over Fiji.
Like most of our Local Knowledge discoveries, Desi Dhaba has an extra, unwritten menu that’s only known of via word of mouth. One great example of that is kava. Some days you can walk into Desi Dhaba to find tables hosting only a large communal bowl of kava and some snacks, usually fried or grilled meat or barra, crispy fried morsels of ground split peas and spices with tamarind sauce. If you’re going to try kava, you may as well call in and book the restaurant’s enormous audio system for a night of Fijian karaoke.
Fiji Style Desi Dhaba
1/28–34 Railway Street, Liverpool
0403 692 511
Mon to Sun 9am – 9pm
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. See the rest of the series here.