Delhi Streets is bustling. Most times of the week and most days of the week, the small spot hidden in the lonely end of Melbourne’s CBD (tucked away in between Spencer and Flinders Streets) is full to the brim. Most impressively, it’s been so since it opened nearly a decade ago. Even after a pandemic that shattered so much of our hospitality industry, Delhi Streets remains a well-loved spot that’s weathered the storm.
It's all happening inside the jamming little place: the walls are covered in Bollywood movie posters, there’s Indian pop music blaring from above and the chefs in the kitchen are on full display separated only by glass windows. And much like the city of Delhi itself, the bustle is all part of the appeal.
If there’s one thing to remember when you get to Delhi Streets, it’s the pani puri. The crispy, hollow balls of dough hide a filling of potatoes and chickpeas inside, as well as small dollops of tamarind and yogurt chutney. You do as you’re told – pour (the accompanying cold spiced mint water broth) into the shell and down it in one quick mouthful. And, repeat. It is, as it should be, a total flavour bomb. A well-balanced, fragrant explosion of sour, spice and sweetness all in one. As the masters know and the amateurs find out the hard way, you’ve got about three seconds to get it in your mouth before it all comes apart. Either way, you’ll be going back for seconds, then thirds, then another serve.
The menu brings a little bit of everything. Samosa chaat represent North India’s beloved fried parcels, while there’s an ode to Mumbai through pav bhaji (spiced vegetables served with soft dinner rolls) and South Indian flavours come through thin, crisp, crepe-like dosa. And, given Delhi Streets opened during Melbourne’s fusion heyday (the circa 2015 era when fusion was the new black), Western and Eastern influences pop up on the menu too. Think: paneer pizzas and chicken tikka burritos that, regretfully, fall short of the more traditional dishes. The classics though, deliver flavour bombs in spades.
On that note, the samosas here aren’t the lone soldiers you may have come to expect. Instead, the potato and pea parcels sit on a traditional chole (chickpea curry) and are drizzled with a slightly sweet yogurt, freshened up with a mint chutney and lifted with tamarind. The dish is just as colourful as the restaurant’s surrounds and twice as
exciting as other versions you may have tried before. The papri chaat, described by the waitstaff as ‘zingy Indian nachos’, come next and are moreish, smothered in yogurt and full of punchy spice.
When it comes to thali, there are ever-changing specials, all of which are served in ramekins with rice, naan, pappadum, slices of fresh onion and briny achar pickles. The vegetarian options are plenty and handwritten on the chalkboard depending on the day, while goat curry is a mainstay as is the butter chicken. Here, it’s rich but not overly creamy, and leans on the tangy side with more spices and tomato than overkill of sweetness. Paired with an extra basket of nicely blistered, hot and fluffy garlic naan to scoop it all up and it’s very happy days in this little slice of Delhi.
If you’re lucky, you may have just enough time to sneak in a quick pistachio kulfi ice cream before your strict 1.5 hour sitting is up and you’re shoved out the door. True to street food form, it’s served on a stick and is beautifully creamy and delicately flavoured with cardamom and cinnamon. In any event, you’ll roll onto the hidden alley of Katherine Place full to the brim, thirsty as anything and already craving your next visit. A decade on, Delhi Streets is still kicking, and it’s evidently still as good as ever – all under $40 a head, too.