So when Saffron recently initiated me into the joy that is Janani, I instantly knew that I'd be back. With workmates.
At work I organise a foodie group (huh, is that a surprise?) which has expanded to friends, colleagues and ex-workmates. The idea is to explore a new restaurant, cuisine or suburb and share our collective knowledge of Sydney's dining secrets. Janani seemed like a perfect destination.
Our group was a modest but lucky seven tonight, and as Saffron had forewarned, the restaurant was near capacity. Indian families, Sri Lankan couples, babies in highchairs and a few tables of "foreigners" were already tucking into silver-trayed thalis. The tables are covered with plastic sheeting protecting doilied tablecloths and the family of staff are barely noticeable as they move between tables in jeans and t-shirts.
The first thing that hits you though is the smell--a heady intoxicating aroma of cumin, saffron, coconut and curry which envelopes you as if to welcome you home.
We peruse the menu and after much deliberation and quizzing of the ever-patient staff, we put in a motley order of various dishes to try. I had no idea how much food was going to arrive, but we were hungry and ready for anything!
Lamb biryani $10.00
The biryani arrives with sambar (like a mild curry sauce), a whole egg and a chunky raita-style cucumber yoghurt. Compressed using a modern device known as the takeaway box (tell-tale indents gave it away), basmati rice was mixed with tender chunks of lamb, onion, tomato and spices.
Milk hopper $2.50
Hoppers are like bowl-shaped pancakes made with rice flour, coconut milk and either yeast or palm wine (palm toddy). The palm wine gives the pancake a slight sourness. The hoppers are cooked in a small somewhat mini-wok device, creating a spongey thick centre and a crisp lacey tutu.
Hoppers are generally served with sambol, the addictive mixture of Maldive fish, coconut, onion, chilli and lemon juice. Sambol is scattered onto the hopper and then eaten together, usually by tearing the hopper into manageable shreds as you go.
Milk hoppers have an extra ladle of coconut milk added to the centre after it is cooked, giving this an extra creamy richness.
Egg hoppers $2.50 each
We also ordered two egg hoppers to share, which include a whole egg cracked into the centre and cooked. The hoppers are a little messy to share but good fun regardless.
Onion dosai $4.50
The onion dosai comes with slices of finely shaved cooked Spanish onion inside.
Appearing much like a giant crepe, it too has a slightly sour taste from its fermentation process. To make dosai, rice and hulled urad dahl lentils are soaked overnight and then ground separately. They are then combined into a dough and allowed to prove for 8 hours before cooking on a cast iron griddle. And now that I know how hard these are to make (thanks Google!) I'll be much more appreciative of the next one I consume!
Masala dosai $6.00
We also chose a masala dosai which comes with potato masala buried within the dosai tunnel.
The dosai is again torn and eaten with dippings of spicy sambar or the coolness of the red or green chilli chutneys.
(L-R) Eggplant curry $6.00 and prawn curry $7.00
Although these portions appeared small at first, they were thick and rich with flavour. My favourite dish of the night was definitely the eggplant curry which was nourishing and strong with the taste of eggplant (I love eggplant/aubergine).
The prawn curry was also tasty with coconut milk, lemon and a fair bit of spice which reassured you your tastebuds were alive but not quite singed.
Stringhoppers with sothi and pol sambol $4.00
(five stringhoppers, brown or white)
Sothi (coconut milk with onion, saffron, garlic and curry leaves)
and pol sambol (Maldive fish, coconut, onion, chilli and
Stringhoppers (don't you love that name?) are made by squeezing out a hot runny rice flour dough into a lacey disc. The circle is then steamed and served with sothi and pol sambol, again mixed and torn to be eaten by the handful.
Most of my fellow diners didn't realise that the plate contained five stringhoppers, rather than a mass of what looked like noodles. These were fresh and hot and soaked up the creamy sothi beautifully.
Egg koththu rotti (or kothu roti) $8.00
I remember my puzzled bemusement last time I was here, trying to identify the regular jarring sound of metal upon metal coming from the kitchen. Saffron had patiently explained to us that this was merely the sound of kothu roti being made--roti bread pancakes being hacked into small pieces and combined with egg, onion, vegetables and meat as required.
Garlic naan $2.50
The giant fluffy pillows of naan which arrived were one of the evening's highlights for me. Fresh from the tandoor, these were soft and airy but with enough density to mop up plenty of sauce.
Whole tandoori chicken $12.00
As our stomachs struggled, our final dish of tandoori chicken arrived. The chicken was moist, succulent and coated with plenty of spice.
But then of course, there was dessert.
Pistachio and mango kulfi $3.00 each
Kulfi is an Indian-style ice cream which is traditionally textured with bits of milk skin. Alternatively it can be made with evaporated and condensed milks and although light and refreshing, the texture is somewhat denser than aerated Western-style ice cream.
Heeding Saffron's advice, I have the vattilappam for dessert. Vattilappam is made with eggs, coconut milk, cardamon, cashews and jaggery--an unrefined sugar obtained from the sap of certain palm trees.
This eggy sweet custard is likened to a coconut creme caramel and we found it a rich but satisfying conclusion to our meal.
Milk tea $2.00
I confess. We ordered milk tea thinking it was chai. "Is this chai?" I asked the waiter. "Yes, yes," he nodded.
As we sipped it, we realised it was simply strong tea with milk, devoid of the cardamon, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper we were anticipating.
Of course chai simply means tea. Which is what we were drinking. The chai we were thinking of was chai masala. And masala tea is a separate option on the menu to milk tea.
Still, the tea was hot and strong and the double insulated cups (check the picture carefully to see the thickened drinking rim) kept it piping hot for ages.
But the piece de resistance of the evening was the bill. Our table was a disaster zone of half-eaten dishes, abandoned stringhoppers and a tower of leftover naan. We were thoroughly satiated after exploring a whole range of interesting dishes which were intricately flavoured without the harshness of overpowering heat.
The wait staff had been marvellously accommodating of our questions and queries. The food was all fresh and had arrived quickly albeit haphazadly.
The damage? A ridiculous $15.35 per person.
I love this place!
32 Burlington Road, Homebush, Sydney
Tel: 02 9763 2306
Related GrabYourFork posts:
Janani, July 2005
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10/17/2005 11:09:00 pm