Whatever you do, don’t say the C word around Shane Delia, the Melbourne restaurateur behind contemporary Middle Eastern restaurant Maha and always-busy food truck Biggie Smalls. As far as Delia’s kebabs go, they’re a no-cutlery kind of meal.
Delia has made a name for himself in the Melbourne hospitality world with the kind of food that defies convention. At Maha, he showcases “unrestricted” haute Middle Eastern food in a restaurant setting, while the food truck Biggie Smalls takes that playfulness and multiplies it tenfold. It’s there he serves KBabs – “game changing kebabs.”
We caught Delia on a rare break in his busy Recipe for Life schedule to chat through how to achieve kebab nirvana in the safety of your own home. Here are his tips.
1. Don’t be afraid to get creative
The first rule is…there are no rules! When Delia is making his famous Kbabs, he throws the rule book out the window. It’s about creativity, exploring ways to make unusual ingredients work in kebab form and learning to trust your instinct.
“We’ve done one off kebabs where we’ve thrown fried dim sums in there,” Delia says. “It had pickled ginger slaw, fried prawns, hoisin mayonnaise. It was mega.”
“Knowing that you can actually do whatever the hell you want with the kebab, it’s liberating."
The ‘no rules’ philosophy is the driving force behind The Bronson, a braised beef rendang kebab with fried coconut, shaved pickled carrots, cucumber and coriander. It’s like a Malaysian meal wrapped up in a kebab.
2. Get your hands dirty
Okay, we lied when we said there were no rules. There’s just one, and Shane’s pretty adamant about it. “It bemuses me when I see people unwrap a kebab and eat it with a knife and fork,” he laughs. “It’s really weird! Who unwraps a kebab so it’s open, then eats the filling with a knife and fork and then eats the bread last? I look at those people and wonder if they’re for real.”
Save the cutlery for a Biggie Smalls Halal Snack pack.
3. Bread is everything
The bread is what makes a kebab a kebab, so choose wisely.
“Bread is the key,” Delia says. “You need good bread. Decide what kind of kebab you’d like to eat – whether it’s something wrapped in flat bread, whether it’s something in a pocket, or whether it’s something in Turkish bread. Find the style you like, because that’s half the battle.”
4. Start simple and remember the mantra: quality over quantity
“Start small, with the flavours that you like Delia says. “Cook everything properly. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to be right.”
To that end, DIY kebabs are very much a case of quality over quantity. “It’s better to have less ingredients of good quality than a whole lot of shitty ingredients,” he says. They’re usually easier to cook and taste better, too.
Delia recommends focusing on crisp, fresh ingredients to start with for maximum crunch. “Where are you going to find that freshness? Is it going to be from a crispy cabbage slaw, or from your traditional iceberg lettuce?” He asks. “Or maybe something else completely, like bean shoots?”
Refer to rule #1 for guidance.
5. No one wants a sloppy kebab
Delia has two words for budding kebab home cooks: moisture levels. For the kebab connoisseur, form is everything. “We don’t want to serve fatty, greasy kebabs, and we’re also really conscious of the moisture content,” he says. “Sometimes you pick up a kebab and it’s got that much juice and yoghurt and everything else that it just becomes a puddle of mess.” According to Delia, this is what you want to avoid. “You want it to eat really well, so avoid adding too much sauce or liquid.”
6. Bonus tip: If you’re leaving the kitchen, talk to the people who know best
Of course, if it all seems like a bit too much to handle, you can always explore the near endless kebab options in your city. If you’re in Melbourne, Biggie Smalls has got you covered, but Delia suggests going straight to the horse’s mouth for further advice.
“Generally, it’s word of mouth within particular communities. If I want a Turkish kebab I’ll ask my Turkish friends where they go, and they know the real from the fake pretty quick,” he says. "I’m looking for a shop that’s busy. If a traditional kebab shop is busy, it’s generally an indication of quality”.
Get Shane's beef rendang kebab recipe right here.
A seemingly crazy combination for a sandwich, you'll just have to trust us on this one and bite into Sudan's delicious toastie! #RecipeForLife