The Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges offer a huge range of award-winning wines and cocktails, quality multicultural dishes, restaurants and cafes showcasing local produce and culinary talent creating the food we love to eat.
If you’re dining in our region, take the time to discover these incredible signature dishes and the unique stories behind what makes them some of the best bites and bevs.
Located in Belgrave, Babaji’s Kerala Kitchen offers visitors and locals alike authentic Keralan cuisine, dosa, thali and street food favourites in their fully licensed South Indian street food restaurant daily for lunch and dinner.
Bringing the authentic flavours from a humble fisherman’s village on the Arabian coast of Kerala, South India; Australian/Indian duo and co-founders Billy Crombie and chef Max Kamil Hassan have created an atmosphere where the fresh, delicious flavours of South Indian fare are celebrated (and of course devoured) by guests regularly.
Babaji’s Kitchen began as a festival and market food stall popping up across Victoria and serving up food that patrons simply couldn’t get enough of before eventually opening their first street food restaurant in Puffing Billy’s hometown, Belgrave.
Babaji's prides itself on bringing people together with great food and welcoming South Indian hospitality (no matter what cricket team you follow!)
The Signature Dish
Ideal for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike, their signature Banana Leaf Thali Kerala vegetarian Sadyha feast is served on a banana leaf and best eaten with your fingers.
Featuring 12 different traditional dishes, it offers up a flavour bomb of everything from sweet, salty, sour, spicy, crunchy and creamy. This plate has it all going on, each dish complementing the other. A true feast that’s packed with flavour.
Stars of the dish include sambar dahl - a Kerala-style vegetable yellow lentil daal with okra, eggplant and tamarind, and Avial - the queen of Kerala’s curries, packed full of taro, plantain, wintermelon and beans.
Ever tried wintermelon and pineapple pachadi? Now you can, and we’re going to wager you’ll find the slightly sweet yoghurt side dish a perfect accompaniment. There’s also cabbage thoran, a cabbage, curry leaf and mustard seed stir fry, and a Payasam (a Kerala-style vermicelli noodle ‘rice pudding’, with sago pearls, cardamom, cashews and raisins.
Ever tried Sarkara Upperi? These jaggery-coated banana chips are a sugary sensation you’ll love, and they’re all served up with matta, red rice that’s nutty, fluffy and fat. Perfect for soaking up the different flavours.
They happily cater to vegans, and In traditional style, after you’ve entirely devoured this dish, don’t forget to fold the banana leaf when you’re done.
“We’ve been on a five-year journey with our community in the Dandenong Ranges, introducing them to the dishes that are not so well known but that we have grown up eating - dosa, idli, uttapam in our South Indian home-state of Kerala,” says chef Hassan adding he felt it was time to introduce everyone to a real Kerala speciality, the ‘sadya’, a banana leaf feast.
“Whilst we eat a form of Sadya most days, at home or in roadside restaurants, it becomes special at Hindu weddings or Kerala’s annual harvest festival - Onam, where a feast can be made up of over 60 different items - each served to you on long communal tables, by waiters who walk the room topping everyone up.”
“Eating sadya comes with rules, the direction of the banana leaf, the order dishes are served and eaten and even the way to fold your banana leaf when you’re done.
“We don’t get too hung up on this, but we like to see everyone giving eating with their fingers a go, as it tastes so much better and encourages you to focus on what you are eating - each dishes different textures and temperatures,” he says, adding that for those what aren’t quite ready to dig in and enjoy it in the traditional way, cutlery is always available.
“Whilst banana leaves can be tricky to get in the Dandenongs; the banana leaf makes the meal. As well as making a great plate, it imparts more flavour into the curries and takes you straight to tropical Kerala.”
Max says the food at Babaji’s Kerala Kitchen is handmade by cooks who were taught by their own mothers and aunties, creating a truly authentic meal you just won’t get anywhere else.
“Sometimes, as we’re cooking, we ring ‘mum’ back in the village to double-check how to make a dish,” he says. “We think that's why our Kerala guests always tell us, with a warm smile, ‘this tastes just like my mum’s food’. That makes us so happy to hear,” he admits. “Though there is no way we are competing with anyone’s mum - we all know mum's food is the best food!”
You can grab this banana leaf feast every day except Wednesday for lunch and dinner.
One word of advice? Arrive hungry.
“You might need to find a tree for a nap after. Good job, we’re 5 minutes from the Dandenong Ranges National Park,” Max adds.
While Babaji’s serves up some sensational fare, they also make a specific effort to source their produce locally using local veggies and free-range meat supplied by Greg’s Tender Joint in Belgrave South.
Sustainability is at the top of their priorities, and to reduce waste, they encourage locals to order takeaway to BYO, a reusable container. If it’s not possible, that’s okay too, as they only use 100% compostable containers for takeaway.
Just another reason to indulge guilt-free.
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