Mukka is Hindi slang for punch and that’s exactly what the Dhawan family are doing on the Melbourne Indian restaurant scene; packing a punch and breathing new life. Ihad a chat with Rekha and her son Prateek about garam masala, fresh ingredients and their passion for authentic Indian food.
What made you open your own restaurant?
Rekha: I have always wanted to be creative, and do something fresh.
Prateek: I remember in my childhood that we would go to different places to eat and Mum and Dad would always discuss the different dishes. Even though they had a children’s garment manufacturing business for more than 30 years, they have always had a keen interest in food. At that time, India was a different country. It wasn’t a foodie culture even though it has always been food focussed, just not really intentionally like here.
How did you find the Indian food scene in Melbourne when you first arrived?
Prateek: So disappointing. There was hardly anything. Strong use of colour…
Rekha: And cream and grease. I don’t know why they did that.
What makes Mukka different?
Rekha: Mukka is different because it’s fresh. All the spices are ground in house. We always use fresh spinach, fresh coriander, and fresh chutneys every day. Nothing is bought in.
What are the most important spices for Indian food?
Rekha: Garam masala is very important. But everyone has a different way to make it.
Prateek: The different combination of spices in garam masala is a flavour preference and varies a lot based on the region of India you come from. The freshness of the spices makes a big difference as well. If you grind spices and then keep them for a month, they will lose their aroma and flavour. We buy whole spice, grind them in house and do this frequently, and there is an exceptional difference in that.
How did you decide what was going to go on the menu?
Prateek: Our first step was to do a survey on survey monkey and we collected up to 250 responses and from that we collected what people already know and like and we couldn’t miss some of the favourites. We wanted to keep our menu short but include some of our own favourites like dosa and chickpea and spinach curry and things like that that aren’t so well known here. So we nailed our must-haves from the survey, such as butter chicken, then we organised a tasting with our friends and friends of friends and got them to critique the dishes before settling on the menu.
Do you eat Indian food at home?
Rekha: Food is important to us. Growing up I saw my mum cooking fresh food and I learned a lot from her. Then when I got married, my mother-in-law taught me a lot as well. She was very passionate about food and she introduced me to many dishes.
When people come into Mukka, what is the experience you want them to have?
Prateek: We want people to feel the difference, the freshness here. However, you can’t just tell people that, they have to feel it. People often say they feel bloated after eating an Indian meal. If the food has been pre-cooked and is older, it tends to make you feel that way. We want them to appreciate the goodness of what they have eaten at Mukka.
Rekha: In India the food is cooked just before serving. We do the same thing here.
Are they all your recipes?
Rekha: Sixty to seventy per cent are mine. There are a couple of curries our chef introduced and we just made a couple of changes to them. We prefer to use cashew paste instead of cream in the butter chicken, for example.
Where was your chef working before he came to Mukka?
Prateek: He was at a restaurant called Spice Avenue in Port Melbourne. He is Nepalese actually and has worked in India and in Japan. In Japan, they have the same desire for freshness in their food that we have. He prefers to make the curries fresh every day as we do instead of making a base curry and storing it in the freezer. His values and ours align. That’s why we can work together.
365 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Tues – Sun 5pm – 10.30pm, Thurs, Fri 11.30am – 2.30pm, Sat – Sun 12pm – 4pm