MELBOURNE | Food For Thought is a new programme that’s been launched by Opportunity International Australia (“Opportunity”)and we were invited to kick things off in Melbourne at Babu Ji St Kilda. Opportunity is the Australian branch of global charity Opportunity International, which aims to provide financial solutions to those in poverty who have an entrepreneurial spark and need assistance to help them transform their lives by turning their ideas into reality. Opportunity provides assistance primarily by way of micro-loans and business education.
Many are hesitant to lend money to those in poverty, asking “how will they pay me back?”, however the repayment rate on these micro-loans averages 98%, which is better than that experienced by most financial institutions. Even more impressive is that these repayments are then recycled to help others in need. We were really impressed with what Opportunity does, and were happy to attend Melbourne’s first Food For Thought event and learn more about Opportunity, and of course experience some excellent authentic Indian food at Babu Ji.
Food For Thought is a campaign that’s aimed at raising money to use for micro-loans by way of a series of food related fundraisers across Australia. It’s as simple as that, and Opportunity Australia hopes that by the end of 2015 there will have been at least 100 of these events held across Australia, and that they will have been able to raise $100,000. To put things into perspective, this sum equates to providing 1,429 people with micro-finance loans to start their own businesses. Anyone can sign up to create their own fundraiser here.
Mani Waraich, owner of Babu Ji was very proud to be hosting Melbourne’s first Food For Thought fundraiser, and keenly told us about his own experiences and what the concept meant to him. He also put together a menu featuring a “greatest hits” of dishes from the restaurant for us to try. You’ve heard about what Opportunity Australia does, now it’s time to hear about the food.
Babu Ji aims to bring authentic Indian food to Melbourne, and the dishes on the menu span a range of regions from India’s central and northern regions. There are dishes on the menu that many Australian won’t have heard of, and this is not by chance. Mani wants to show Melburnians that there’s more to Indian food to curry, more to Indian food than heat. It’s about simple, home cooking, traditional dishes and a focus on quality produce and flavour.
The space is that of an nice Indian cafe and on the drinks front there’s a decent wine list and, see that beer fridge in the photo below? That’s full of craft beer, and customers are encouraged to go and take a look at the beers and help themselves to what looks interesting. Mani operates on trust and you pay for the bottles that are left on your table at the end of the meal.
Pani Puri are fried puff pastry balls filled with mashed potatoes & chick peas. Tangy, sweet and spicy, they really tantalised a range of senses.
Achari Fish Taka
These tandoor cooked Atlantic salmon pieces with ginger, pickle and punch phoron were beautifully light and fragrant. Very different than the usual way I eat salmon at utterly delicious.
This is the kind of dish that make you realise that being vegetarian isn’t as hard as it sounds. I love meat, but there’s not denying that there are some amazing vegetarian options out there, with Indian being one of the highlight cuisines. The Bharwa mushroom is a stuffed mushroom with spinach and green sweet corn kernels. Texturally interesting and very tasty.
A classic Indian dish, and for good reason. Marinated spiced free range chicken cooked in the tandoor. Succulent, tender and delicious.
This is a popular street food item from Mumbai, and consists of a spiced lentil and potato parcel topped with fresh radish, mint and tamarind. The tamarind really stands out here, and it’s a unique little bite.
This ground Keema meatball filled with ricotta cheese topped off with a mint jelly & saffron transported me back to Iran. That lamb and saffron combination impresses every time.
Tandoori Basil Prawn
This was one of the highlights of the night. Tandoori roasted prawns marinated in hung yoghurt with lemon grass, lime & basil. The charred flavours balanced with the fresh herbs to create something heavenly.
We were all quite full by this stage, but then came out the curries, a selection of curries that can be found on the menu. Butter Chicken, Fish Curry, Lasooni Palak Paneer, Gobi Musallam, House Dal, Naan and Rice – we were in heaven. My favourite was the fish curry, which consisted of blue grenadier, turmeric, mustard seed & coconut milk. The Lasooni Palak Panner, a combination of spinach with homemade cheese cubes, fresh garlic, mustard leaves & fenugreek was another stand out.
To finish, was a sweet Indian ice-cream that combined cardamom, honey, pistachio and cinnamon. A very solid yet creamy texture – I really enjoyed it.
The chefs came out to say hi at the end of the meal. Unsurprisingly, they got a huge round of applause and a lot of thanks from everyone at the table.
Food For Thought is a great idea and we wholeheartedly support the great work that Opportunity Australia is doing and, if you’re in the mood for some of the most authentic Indian food you’ll find in Melbourne, we can definitely recommend you visit Babu Ji too. Hopefully Mani’s support for the initiative inspires you to organise your own food related fundraiser!
4-6 Grey Street
Telephone: (03) 9534 2447
Sun – Wed: 5:00pm to 9:00pm
Thu – Sat: 5:00pm to 10:00pm