The ‘little India’ packing a big punch

I have to admit, I have never travelled to India – but the sights, smells and sounds which come out of the second most populated country in the world have always intrigued me; so when a friend suggested I could get an insight into the ‘real’ India practically on my doorstep, I jumped at the chance.

Dandenong, in South-East Victoria, which is the State’s most culturally diverse region, represented by 150 different nations, seems an obvious place to have an Indian precinct – and it was here that my taste of India tour was to take place.

On arrival, the little strip of shops seemed most unassuming, but open its doors and you are met by larger than life personalities in the form of chefs, fashionistas, bakers, grocers and Bollywood entertainers – all wanting to share their personal stories of life living in the bustling world of India.

The Punjab Sweet Centre renowned for its Jalebi, a bright orange Indian sweet, and its chick-pea Boondi Laddu (deep fried balls soaked in sugar and which are often gifted as a type of invitation) was the first to open in the then un-named ‘Little India’ precinct 30 years ago.

It was closely followed by Victoria’s first Indian grocer, India Bazaar, a shop which awakens the senses with an array of fresh aromatic herbs and spices, and shelves lined with lentils, beans, chutneys, pastes, oils and rices.

A decade later, Shahid Sayed lost his job as an architect, and spurred on by a friend, decided to import hand-made high-end Indian fashion, and Roshan’s Fashion was born.

Just as in many parts of India, where the front curtain of your house is always open, and neighbours, friends and family, come and go as they please, Shahid applies the same policy in his role on the tour.

An animated Sayed explains the tradition of Indian marriage and the sometimes up to 3.5kg hand-beaded skirts worn by the bride – which are individually beaded, taking up to six weeks at a time.

Wrapping up the tour is lunch (or dinner depending which tour you do) served by chef Anand Tandon from Chandi Chook, whose restaurant is named after the very region he hails from; and in a quiet corner on a little comfortable chair we are personally treated to authentic dishes of Pani Puri , Onion Bhaji, Chicken Tikka, Butter Chicken, Lamb Rogan Josh, Dhaal, Rice, Naan and Indian sweets.

The Little India precinct now boasts more than 20 diverse stores – so whether you’re wanting a cultural insight, or to host a Bollywood party, there’s a little piece of India packing a big punch waiting for you.

For more information about the Little India Dandenong tours(and other tours) in the region go to: www.greaterdandenong.com/tours.

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