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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Maya Masala, Surry Hills

Gulab jamun

I love the way the word gulab jamun rolls off the tongue. Like a dramatic Indianised flamenco, there's a pleasingly impressive sense of certainty and flourish in just saying those four syllables.

The other pleasure I've only recently had the pleasure of discovering is dosa (or dosai) and needless to say, I'm hooked.

There's something about its sheer enormity of size which never fails to impress; its golden-brown hue which holds crispy promises; and the allure of hidden treasures which has me peering down the dosa tunnel like an insatiably curious four-year-old.

Maya Masala, in inner-city Surry Hills is famous for its dosa, thali and chaat. Perhaps it's popularity is due to its central location and city-fringe devotees, but it is enough to secure its entry into the 50 foodie things to do in Sydney list published in last week's Good Living.

Led by my self-appointed expert Saffron, we head here for a bite to eat after a tiring and hectic day shopping, sampling and er, eating.

The restaurant extends across three shop fronts, an extension much needed when its burgeoning popularity far exceeded its initial shack-like capacity. In a far cry from its overcrowded humble beginnings, today Maya Masala is all gleaming faux marble, shiny polished floor tiles and a giant widescreen screen with a constant reel of Punjab Bhangra pop.

The first thing which catches my eye is of course the mirage of Indian sweets which beckon enticingly from their multi-tiered glass cabinets. But there are also patties to examine and sauces to ponder as we--make that I--try to make sense of the myriad of choices available from the wall menu.

Chickpea patties

Sambar sauce

We start with an order of pani puri chaat, a kind of Indian version of nachos.

Pani puri chaat $5.00

Crispy deepfried bread shells of puri are smothered in lashings of yoghurt and tamarind sauce and then scattered with a colourful palate of cooked potato and chickpeas, Spanish onion wedges, torn coriander leaves and plenty of crunchy lentil "noodle" bits.

The finger-lickin' goodness is highly addictive. The tamarind sauce is sweet with a hint of tanginess, the yoghurt and onion are zingy and well, anything deep-fried is good.

Ghee masala dosa $8.00

Saffron orders the ghee masala dosa which arrives on a gleaming silver tray and cutlery provided in a quaint paper sleeve.

The ghee dosa, Saffron explains, is slathered with an extra coating of ghee after cooking, adding "extra goodness" to the crepe, she says with a smile.

Inside the ghee masala dosa

Tearing a peek-a-boo hole into the dosa reveals a mound of spicy potato masala which is scooped up with torn shreds of dosa and dipped into the accompanying pots of sambar and coconut chutney.

Onion rawa paneer dosa $9.90

Led only by my (expanding) gut instinct, I live up to my AugustusGloop-like greed and elect for the most expensive item on the menu, the onion rawa paneer dosa at a hefty (that was sarcasm) $9.90.

Told only by the helpful cashier that it contains onion and is extra crispy, I await my dish with increasing suspense.

I admit I am a little crestfallen when my dosa arrives folded rather than rolled (I want the trumpet! I want the trumpet!) but there are still treasures inside--embedded ones at that.

Peeking inside the onion rawa paneer dosa

The dosa batter is embedded with scattered coconut shreds, shards of red onion and fat chunks of green chilli. I am quite happy tearing into this dosa, dipping as I go, until I realise, wait! there's more...

Potato masala inside the onion rawa paneer dosa

Hidden inside is my mound of potato masala which I pounce upon with glee. The dosa is filled with a myriad of taste and textures, although the green chilli is disappointingly mild.

And even though I cannot finish my meal, the separate dessert compartments clam0urs for attention and much-needed tending to.

Clockwise from bottom left:
rashmalai, jelebi and syrup pudding with cheese

Saffron chooses the jelebi from the array of choices (there are about 20+ varieties) and I, greedily of course, go into full piggy mode with two: the rashmalai and a syrup pudding with cheese (it has another name but doh, I've forgotten in and neglected to take notes).

Jelebi $1.80 for two

The jelebi is sweet and crispy, syrupy yet crispy. I've had poorer versions before, but this is definitely the freshest sample I've sampled to date. I find the ooze of sweet syrup with every bite a little overwhelming, but Saffron is clearly in heaven as she recounts her memories of this favourite childhood snack.

Rasmalai – cottage cheese balls in a milk syrup $1.80 each

I was intrigued by the sight of the rasmalai which look like giant white dumplings. Fresh paneer (cottage cheese) is mixed with flour into small dumplings and cooked in syrup.

The dumpling tastes a little sponge-cake like with a hint of cheese flavouring and reminding me somewhat of a cheesey version of gulab jamun. Not as sweet as gulab jamun and a little lighter in density, the addition of green cardamon adds a contrast of texture. The milk syrup adds a creamy sweetness and I find this strangely addictive, although rich as well.

Syrup pudding with cheese

When I had first spotted these in the display cabinet, I was reminded of chocolate eclairs although I know of course that these are not choux pastries filled with cream. It is the fact they look so over-the-top, that I point at it when I make my dessert order.

And to my pleasant surprise, this ends up being my favourite dessert of the three. Again it tastes similar to the gulab jamun but a lot lighter and less sweeter. The pudding is obviously soaked in syrup but it has been drained well, and the whole thing has been split hot-dog-bun style to allow a wedge of sweet paneer.

We watch various families, both Indian and European, arrive with children in tow for a casual shared lunch of communal dishes; groups of friends catch up over a dosa; a lone female thoughtfully consumes a thali as she lazily reads the weekend broadsheet; two foodies sighing with happiness as they reach for yet another spoonful of dessert.

Maya Masala and Sweets Indian Restaurant
468-472 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: 02 9699 8663

Open 7 days 10.30am-10.30pm
The chaat menu is available on Saturdays and Sundays only.

This post forms part of the Dine & Dish #4 challenge where my day's meals cost less than AU$40 / US$30. You can also check out what I propose for breakfast and lunch.
7 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Anonymous on 8/21/2005 11:32:00 pm


  • At 8/22/2005 2:55 am, Blogger Nupur said…

    Glorious Indian food! This post reminds me how lucky I am to be born Indian :) Thanks for the yummy pictures.

  • At 8/22/2005 1:57 pm, Blogger Kelly said…

    The jelebi is such a groovy looking piece of food!

  • At 8/23/2005 9:15 am, Blogger boo_licious said…

    Yummy! I love Indian food especially dosas or thosais like we call them here. The ones you had look like the kind we get here except they add the potato masala. We have one variety that comes in a pyramid form which is like the ghee one as it's all crispy. It's just called paper thosai.

    The sweets look good too especially the cream cheese eclair type.

  • At 8/24/2005 3:38 pm, Blogger deborah said…

    Glad you enjoyed yet another dosai experience. The added goodness of the ghee masala (they are all cooked in ghee) is that the Ghee masala has extra brushed on after it has cooked. Remember the extra sheen? Mmmmm...

  • At 8/25/2005 8:32 pm, Blogger Reid said…

    Hi AG,

    The Indian food looks so good. Too bad there aren't so many Indian restaurants here in Hawaii. =(

  • At 9/14/2008 8:01 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    I searched long and hard for truly great vegetarian Indian food in Australia. Having tried literally hundreds of places, the journey ended here. I'm convinced thali doesn't get any better than this in this country. I can only hope that it's here for a long time to come.

  • At 9/15/2008 11:59 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi John - I agree, the thali here is great. I also quite like the Sri Lankan thali at Janani too.


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