On the advice of our friend Erin we ventured out to Dandenong on one of our recent summer days off. She's vegetarian and has spent some time working in the neighbourhood so she had the expertise to map out the eating and shopping that would most interest us.
We strolled through Dandenong's Little India and spotted a couple of Fijian grocers on our way from the train station to Lonsdale street, but made our first stop at A1 Bakery. Here, Erin advised, we should try the za'atar bread with salad and a non-alcoholic beer. Sadly they were out of salad - which apparently includes some delectable pickles! - and our za'atar bread ($1.20) was comparable to the ones we've bought closer to home. The apple-flavoured 'beer' ($2) was more like a soda in flavour, and a great pair for the bread regardless.
A1 Bakery also stocks a range of Middle Eastern groceries - I was excited to discover and purchase a bag of Persian dried limes.
Our next stop was Aarththi Supermarket, where the convenience store-style entry gave way to shelves of Indian groceries. We replenished our supplies of pickle and spices as well as picking up a small pouch of tandoori faux-chicken. Savers then swallowed us whole; we emerged, dazed, more than an hour later with a handful of becoming garments for Michael.
We ate lunch proper at Lakshmi Vilas Vegetarian Cuisine. This unassuming cafe is tucked away just behind the main street and offers a menu of Indian snacks, dosai, rice and thali plates. In a reversal of our usual orders, Michael gobbled down a masala ghee dosa ($7) while I went the whole hog with a special thali ($9.50). The three curries were terrific, including an unusual potato concoction, and the pappadum and chapathi were most memorable for their freshness and perfect texture. I could barely touch the sambar and rasam - boy, were they hot! Michael happily poured them over his dosa, while I 'borrowed' his coconut chutney. Dessert was a new one for me - a small tub of thin noodles in a very sweet saffron milk (perhaps it was kheer or pheerni?).
We continued to collect Indian groceries at the enormous MKS Spices'n'Things, occasionally distracted (along with most of the staff and customers!) by the fall of several Australian wickets broadcast on their large screens.
Late in the day, and a public holiday at that, we gave up on any further op-shopping and made our way back to the train station with a short stopover at the Punjab Sweet Centre. With a large display case full of treats costing just $1-$1.50 each I struggled to choose just two, though it was ultimately for the best. They were both one-dimensional in their sweetness, lacking the hint of rosewater, saffron, cardamom or pistachios that I enjoy most in Indian sweets. There are a few other sweet spots in the neighbourhood so I'll happily shop around for my sugar fix in future.
Our half-day tour of Dandenong was just the thing to amuse us on an obligation-free summer day. We know this suburb has more still to offer and we're keen to return when a few more op-shops are open. Please drop us a comment if you have other Dandenong delights to recommend!
Check out another blogger's DIY Dandenong tour on Bear Head Soup. A1 Bakery has appeared on I Eat Therefore I Am, while Lakshmi Vilas is blogged at The Yembire Strikes Back and In The Mood For Noodles.
201 Lonsdale St, Dandenong
243 Lonsdale St, Dandenong
Lakshmi Vilas Vegetarian Cuisine
5/31 Putney St, Dandenong
23 Putney St, Dandenong
Punjab Sweet Centre
2B Mason St, Dandenong