A vintage bicycle store is not the first place you would expect to find Indian street food in Melbourne – but that’s exactly where the boys behind Overdosa have set up shop. For the last four months, friends Tyson Savanah and Kunal Khanna have been serving dosas from their spot in the Mottainai Cycles store in Fitzroy. Wander past on the weekend and you will see a myriad of multi-coloured ottomans and stools lining the street in front of the store. You might even spot groups of diners perched on milk crates by the drive way, eating greedily from metal trays while people wheel their bikes past.
It all started while traveling together. The guys, eating mainly street food, realised something was missing on the Melbourne food scene. So they created Overdosa – a food stand serving the Indian street snack, dosas. Kind of like a crisp crepe, dosas are eaten by hand and filled with all sorts of savoury fillings. Last week, I visited the boys at their Rose Street digs to check out what’s on offer and have a chat.
On the fillings menu the day we visited was spicy tamarind pumpkin, classic potato masala and eggplant with peas. Whilst the fillings were not as hot and spicy as I expected they were all delicious and the dosas themselves were golden and crisp. I loved the classic potato – filled with smashed potato, fresh coriander and mild Indian spices. If you wanted to dial up the heat, you could heap on the hot chilli chutney – I didn’t get to try that one but it’s a must for my next visit.
These guys love what they do and have big plans. You can catch them at their 50 Rose Street Fitzroy store on weekends until March and at the Melbourne Zoo twilight nights every Friday and Saturday night for seven weeks. Overdosa will also be popping up at the Evelyn on Brunswick Street on selected nights and various festivals all through summer. Below is my interview with the guys. Enjoy!
Interview with Kunal Khanna and Tyson Savanah
1) So first up – for those who don’t know, what’s a dosa? Where do they come from?
Dosa is a savoury crepe style pancake made from fermented rice and lentil batter. The batter is dolloped onto a custom made hot plate and spread quickly in a circular motion until thin. It is cooked with low cholesterol oil until golden and crispy and is adorned with a selection of fillings. The dosa hails from south India however, many versions of it have been adopted throughout south east Asia and it takes the name of dosai there often.
2) How did you discover the dosa?
Kunal: OVERDOSA came about when Tyson returned to Australia after nearly a year of international travel in Latin America, where I was with him for 2 months. Whilst travelling we ate from the street as much as we possibly could. Not only was it more affordable, but street-food was easy, prompt and delicious. We realised that Melbourne didn’t have street-food like they did. The mobility aspect was another big appeal as we were always on the move.
When Tyson returned from his travels he wanted to have a crack at street-food in Melbourne. I was keen on it and we explored a heap of ideas like Mauritian and Mexican, but it was all pie in the sky. Not long after, I went back to India for nearly a whole year to visit family and friends and also do a tour of my home country. I had been living in Melbourne for ages and wanted to get back to my roots.
When I returned I brought up the idea again and asked if Tyson had thought anymore about it. I said – “Dude, I have it! Have you ever eaten a dosa before?” He hadn’t. I said, “man, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this when you were talking about street food last year. Dosa is awesome, I ate one nearly every day in India while growing up”.
I told Tyson all about dosa and how popular they were there. No one was really doing it all that much here in Melbourne, particularly street food style. Dosa was never the hero on the menu at Indian restaurants. We went to Dosa Hut in Footscray to check it out and Tyson was impressed. The dosa was different and tasty. We decided to look into it further and went to my childhood friend Zubin Patel’s house to eat dosa and learn how it was made and cooked. The research began and so did OVERDOSA. We talked about our street-food experiences back on our travels and wanted to replicate that back here in Melbourne.
3) How long have you been doing the dosa thing for? How did you get into it?
Tyson: OVERDOSA has been operating as a hobby and we have been doing taste testers for guinea pig friends who have been loving it for the past year and a half – mostly at private functions, friends’ houses and parties. We were registered with Yarra City Council in September 2013 and have since been trading as a pop-up cafe from Mottainai Vintage Cycle warehouse in Rose Street, Fitzroy. We have been trading every weekend for almost 4 months now and will have use of the space up until March 2014 before the warehouse gets demolished to make way for apartments.
One week after our launch in September we set-up stall at Ganesh Festival (celebration of the Hindu elephant God) 2013 in the north-western suburbs of Melbourne, serving southern Indian food to southern Indians. We got a pretty good response from the harshest critics of all! It was then when we knew that we are on to something.
4) How did you learn how to make dosas? Who is the chef here?
Tyson: After our first lesson at Kunal’s friend’s place we got a little electric non-stick French crepe pan and the practice began. Kunal and I kept spinning it and spinning it on this little pan at every opportunity possible.
Our main guide was the world wide web and youtube videos. However late last year Kunal returned to India for a friend’s wedding. He spent hours on street side stalls observing the dosa masters and picking up little tricks of the trade from them. He also brought back a whole library of videos and we went from there to perfecting our dosa spin.
In terms of cooking the fillings, chutneys etc I brought a wealth of experience from working in kitchens since being a teenager and experimenting with a wide range of foods growing up in a multi-cultural family with Aussie and Mauritian parents. Using my knowledge of mixing flavours together and Kunal’s mum’s home style recipes we developed the current OVERDOSA menu which is being cooked by us at the moment.
5) Are the fillings traditional?
The most common/ traditional filling of the dosa in India is Potato Masala. However, street side stalls in places such as Mumbai are extremely innovative and some go as far as putting noodles in the dosa.
6) How did you find the Rose Street space? Why a cycle warehouse?
Kunal: When we were planning or thinking about OVERDOSA, operating out of a warehouse was not what we had in mind. We were thinking more a food truck than anything.
Our space at Rose street happened by chance. Sometime in May the wheels from my vintage bike got stolen at the University of Melbourne campus. As my house was 20 metres from the bike shop I went to Mottainai to replace the wheels. In the process I made friends with the guys working at the shop and continued to hang out and muck around with bikes after I had my wheels replaced. On one of the occasions when we were doing dosa taste trials we invited over the guys from the shop and soon after they suggested we set up in there – and we said why not!
This is when the synthesis between OVERDOSA and Mottanai began, which has worked beautifully in terms of creating a street food vibe right in the heart of Fitzroy. Thanks to Cameron at Mottanai we have had no restrictions on completely decking out the place to our liking, cranking Hindi Bollywood tunes and essentially transporting our customers to the streets of India for the time they spend in our humble warehouse. And coincidentally cycles, in my opinion are definitely the single best element for completing any picture of an Asian street scene.
7) What do you think of the Melbourne food scene? How is it different to other countries you have travelled to?
The Melbourne food scene is absolutely incredible in terms of the diversity it offers. More recently the food truck boom has also really helped bring many different foods and fusion of cuisines to more people in more accessible ways. However, what Melbourne lacks is street food like it is available on the streets of Asia and many central and south American countries. The food trucks do a great job of bridging the gap between traditional restaurants and street food, however, it misses many elements of true hawker style street food out of a cart or a bicycle.
8) Where can we find you over summer?
We are on our way to our first festival, French Fest on French Island over New Year’s Eve which is very exciting. Starting Australia day, OVERDOSA will be at the Melbourne Zoo twilight nights every Friday and Saturday nights for 7 weeks. We have applied for a range of music, arts and lifestyle events to add to our calendar for the coming summer months where we would like people to discover the dosa and we are also trialling pop-up at the Evelyn hotel in Fitzroy on Monday and Tuesday nights complementing their $10 jugs of beer.
We don’t yet have confirmation on when we will have to vacate the space at Rose street, but it could be sometime in March. However, until then keep your eye out for street style Bollywood movie nights and pre-booked sit down degustation menus from the streets of India and potentially a huge warehouse party before we leave the space… shhhhh!!!
Check out the Overdosa Facebook page for more info.