Where: Aangan, 559 Barkly Street West Footscray
What: Another Indian restaurant in Melbourne that serves gobi manchurian
Who: Proud Perthian, Seltzer Sommelier, Raw Dog
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
I don’t typically dine out on South Asian food because a) my mum cooks genuinely very good Indian food for the price tag of me advertising stuff she doesn’t want anymore on Facebook Marketplace and b) my stomach doesn’t recognise that it descends from the forefathers and foremothers of the subcontinent and unfairly revolts when I as much as smell a spice. I’d heard so much about Aangan that I had to try it, however, and what better reason to celebrate than Proud Perthian moving to a new house within walking distance of it.
Proud Perthian and I knew we’d need more than two mouths to sample the number of dishes we wanted to try on Aangan’s menu, so we roped in our two friends and newcomers to the blog: Seltzer Sommelier, who spent lockdown and the immediate period after sampling every seltzer under the sun (in the sun), and her partner Raw Dog, who in classic Brisbane parlance, refers to the following as ‘raw dogging’ – leaving the house without shoes, eating food with one’s hands, not wearing underwear, etc etc.
Researching Aangan yielded a mixed bag of reviews but we eventually settled on what we wanted to order (or rather, I did and the rest acquiesced to my controlling nature): gobi manchurian, samosa, seekh kebab, goat vindaloo, baingan bhartha, chicken 65 biryani, plain naan and garlic naan.
Gobi manchurian is one of my favourite dishes and Aangan certainly did it justice, though my heart will always reside with the soy-heavy gobi manchurian interlaced with sauteed onions made by Betel Leaf in Kuala Lumpur (if international travel ever resumes and you find yourself in KL, do try it there). Manchurian is a type of Indo-Chinese dish where chicken, prawn, fish or in this case, cauliflower (gobi), is deep-fried and sauteed in a sauce rich with soy sauce, garlic, ginger and vinegar.
Despite Manchurian being the historical name for a region that now covers parts of Northeast China and Russia, this dish bears little resemblance to Manchu cuisine. It is said to have been invented in 1975 by Nelson Wang, an Indian restaurateur of Chinese descent, who created it at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai when a customer asked him to serve a new dish that wasn’t on the menu. Combining the classic Indian base ingredients of garlic, ginger and green chillies with the Chinese ingredients of cornstarch and soy sauce, gobi manchurian marries what I love best about South Asian and East Asian cuisines.
Manchurian always comes either dry or with gravy but because I like to eat it as an entree, I ordered the dry version at Aangan. More red than brown due to a combination of chilli and tomato sauce and peppered with sauteed onions as well as tendrils of green capsicum for good crunch factor, Aangan’s gobi manchurian featured immaculately crisp battered cauliflowers slathered with the savoury, spicy and sweet sauce. It was a unanimously loved appetiser.
As with spring rolls, I prefer my samosas to be vegetarian, and was very happy with the potato and pea ones at Aangan. The flaky pastry was fried to perfection but we were glad to have only ordered two between the four of us – there was too much eating to be done, and too little stomach space for superfluous carbs.
By this stage, we were expecting our third entree – the seekh kebab – to arrive, but our mains arrived instead in quick succession. This is when it became a truly spicy time. Feeling shielded by the presence of white people, I requested medium levels of spice – hoping this would reflect poorly on them more than me – but medium hot at Aangan was still hot, which is how I know I will definitely be returning.
I love chicken 65, a South Indian dish where boneless chicken pieces are coated in flour, yoghurt, curry leaves and spices and then deep-fried. It has a characteristic deep redness from food colouring, which I absolutely love even though the colouring adds nothing to the flavour of the chicken. It was no surprise then that I really enjoyed Aangan’s chicken 65 biryani, which saw the spiced chicken morsels layered with rice, other spices and a hard-boiled egg. Unlike a typical biryani where the meat is cooked alongside the rice, a chicken 65 biryani sees the chicken marinated, fried and then layered with the rice and masala and cooked further. While this type of biryani meant the rice wasn’t as steeped in flavour, those who prefer crisp chicken instead of slow-cooked chicken will enjoy it. Chicken 65 is known for being spicy, and Seltzer Sommelier attributed her teary eyes to this.
My resulting heartburn was almost certainly from the goat vindaloo. I’ve always associated a vindaloo with high levels of heat but it turns out I’ve been duped with the rest of them – inspired by the Portuguese meat dish carne de vinha d’alhos, or meat cooked in wine vinegar and garlic, vindaloo is a Goan dish more synonymous with the tang of vinegar and the aroma of sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves and cardamom than it is with fiery chilli. I remember the chilli in Aangan’s version more than anything else, but did appreciate the fall-apart pieces of slow-cooked goat.
The one high-histamine vegetable that I know definitely makes me sick is eggplant, but due to my self-destructive ways, it was probably me pushing for us to order the baingan bhartha, roasted eggplant mashed and tossed with onion and tomato. In this smoky dish that originated in Punjab, eggplant is roasted on an open flame in its skin. I enjoyed the soft cubes of eggplant – a vegetable I rarely eat but that dearly miss – but found the flavour profile far too similar to the vindaloo. This is my fault and my fault alone – if I could’ve had my time again, I would’ve ordered something creamier like a korma (vegetables cooked in cream and cashew sauce) or a methi malai matar (fenugreek and green peas cooked in spiced fresh cream) to cut through the tomatoey heaviness of the vindaloo.
At some point after the mains arrived, our seekh kebab was delivered by a highly apologetic waitstaff, and this dish is what Proud Perthian attributed her runny nose to. Seekh kebab was originally known as shish kebab and was said to have been introduced to India by traders from Turkey. I ordered this to sample Aangan’s tandoor (a metal oven used in South Asian cooking and baking) offerings but we collectively agreed that this was the least remarkable dish on the table. Though the grilled spiced meat cylinders delivered in the heat department and were wonderfully tender, I would’ve enjoyed an accompanying green chutney to lift the spices in them.
I am firmly team rice over roti – not that you have to choose one – so only availed myself of one garlic naan (lol). I enjoyed the novelty of having some dough to mop up the curries with, especially with naan as fragrant as Aangan’s garlic one, and relished using my hands in an Indian restaurant as I would at home – I was definitely raw dogging it.
Because of the spiciness of this meal, I craved a dessert, despite not being a sweet tooth. Proud Perthian went for the gulab jamun (soft balls of cottage cheese and condensed milk fried and dipped in sugar syrup flavoured with rose essence) while I ordered the pista kulfi (pistachio Indian ice-cream).
I sampled some of Proud Perthian’s gulab jamun, despite it symbolising death on every front for me, and enjoyed it, though as is the norm with gulab jamun, I was satisfied after a mere bite, so rich it was.
The pista kulfi arrived as cut up chunks doused in a rose syrup and I was admittedly disappointed, partly because I was expecting it on a skewer like what you get at Horn Please and partly because the pistachio flavouring was synthetic as opposed to nutty, and the texture unlike the custard stickiness of kulfi that I so typically enjoy. Aangan’s curries beat Horn Please’s saccharine sweet ones hands down, but there’s a special place in my heart for Horn Please’s honey, cardamom and pistachio kulfi – if you haven’t tried Indian ice-cream before, go there.
I’ve never eaten South Asian food that’s not made by my mother (who takes great pains to avoid putting tomatoes and onion in her food) that hasn’t made me feel bloated after and Aangan was no different. My bloat only got progressively worse and made itself felt the next morning in ways that I won’t go into for the sake of retaining readers.
It may seem like I had a mixed bag experience at Aangan, but I really did enjoy the gobi manchurian and biryani, two of my favourite South Asian dishes. I’ve since heard from reputable sources that I need to order the amritsari fish, pani puri and the chaat platter the next time I go, so I’m keen to revisit and relive my bloat score all over again.
Aangan West Footscray is open Monday to Friday from 5pm to 10.30pm, on Saturday and Sunday from 12.30pm to 3pm and 5pm to 10.30pm.