This quiet Footscray restaurant has a Tamil name and is best known for a famous Hyderabadi dish. When it comes to a signature dish, you might assume this particular delight would hail from either of those Indian regions, but owner Jagadish Venigalla has a surprise up his sleeve.
Vanakkam first opened in a small shopfront in Nicholson Street, Footscray in 2008. Impending track work prompted a move to new premises in Barkly Street, Footscray last year. The new digs are quiet and peaceful, with a serene Buddha cocooned in a giant stone egg and a tiny countertop water fountain that burbles soothingly.
Jagadish hails from Hyderabad in south India and is trained in hotel and hospitality management. He and his business partner settled on the business name “Vanakkam”, which means “welcome” in the south Indian Tamil language. They’ve since become known for their biryani, a dish of marinated meat and aromatic rice, steamed in the one pot.
Vanakkam’s biryani is indeed a delicious dish, but the specialty that Jagadish wants to highlight is the ginger chicken. This is an Indo-Chinese offering, meaning that it is an Indian interpretation of Chinese flavours and cooking methods.
Westernised Chinese food, modified for western taste buds, is often criticised as being bland in flavour. On the other hand, an Indian spin on Chinese cooking promises plenty of classic Indian spice and crunch – and this dish delivers in spades. Jagadish makes the sauce from scratch, reducing ginger, garlic and soy sauce to create a delicious, intense sauce that hugs the chicken at every curve. It’s got a great spicy kick and lots of pure, fresh ginger flavour.
The sign above Vanakkam’s door reads, “Cherish yesterday. Dream tomorrow. Live today”. It’s thoughtful advice from a little restaurant with a lot of heart.
Read more Signature Dishes of Footscray
Lauren is a food writer and you can read more of her work at her blog.