Kamaldeep Singh owes a lot of his passion for cooking to that stalwart of Indian food: butter chicken. Singh and his wife Uma co-founded Punjabi Fusion, a Harris Park restaurant that introduces diners to the food of Punjab, a state in the north-east of India. He was motivated by the lacklustre local versions of his favourite homegrown dish.
“When I moved to Australia in 2006, I visited a restaurant with my friend and the butter chicken was so sweet and he told me, ‘forget the taste of India, this is the flavour you will get here’.” Singh laughs. “Because ingredients in Australia are so expensive, a lot of places make the gravy for the chicken with tomato puree rather than fresh tomatoes, which is a shortcut. Then, they add sugar to take the acidity off.
For an authentic butter chicken, the chef says only a hint of sugar is needed, mixed with herbs and masalas and simmered for around four to five hours.
“I told myself that one day, I’ll open up a restaurant on this street that serves butter chicken that tastes exactly the same as what we eat in India.”
Of course, the quest for authenticity is always fraught in the food world. Butter chicken (or murgh makhani) was originally conceived in the ‘50s at Moti Mahal, a neighbourhood restaurant in Delhi before taking on its various global iterations. But its crowning ingredient is a staple of Punjabi cuisine.
Singh tells SBS that in Punjab – which is known for its dairy farms – butter, ghee and buffalo milk lend dishes punchy flavours and creamy, moreish textures.
At Punjabi Fusion, dishes like dal makhani and raan-e-sikandari, baby lamb leg marinated and cooked over charcoals for 48 hours – a legacy of the Mughal emperors that ruled Northern India until the early 18th century – are a case in point.
“Punjabis eat a lot of ghee and butter and everything is very wholesome and pure,” he says. Singh has also recently added three new kababs, dishes he says were made famous by the King of Lucknow.
“He couldn’t chew his lamb so his chef invented the galouti kebab, the tunde kebab and the kakori kebab. When the king tried them, they melted in his mouth.”
Singh and his wife opened Punjabi Fusion a year and a half ago. At the western Sydney restaurant, he’s focused on introducing Sydney to new dishes while elevating classics like tandoori chicken, courtesy of a pair of serious clay ovens known as tandoors.
“I bought them from a supplier over here who imported them from India — one is gas and one is charcoal,” he explains. “The tandoor was invented in Afghanistan but became very famous in Punjab.”
To get that authentic flavour, he says you have to cook the chicken on the charcoal at 400 degrees.
“Tandoori chicken came from Punjab and it’s our most popular dish. I opened the restaurant because I wanted to give the real taste of India to the Indian community here, but also to Australians.”
Photos by Tammi Kwok
Mon to Thu 5.30pm–10pm; Fri - Sat 11:30am –10.30pm; Sun 11:30am–10pm
5&6/104-108 Wigram St, Harris Park, Sydney