There’s a certain craving that can only be sated by the sensory delights of the chicken frankie. The crunch of flatbread coated in egg and fried until golden. The acid flash of chopped red onion. The zing of chaat masala – a mixture that includes cumin, ground coriander, ginger and mango powder. It’s the hallmark of chaat, a category of dishes designed to eat whenever you feel like, whenever you’re hungry, most often found on an Indian city street.
Other people have Chiko rolls or party pies or Vegemite toast. I have the frankie, a dish that feels like it could have been named by a child. My mother used to cook frankies as a midweek treat when my brother and I were still young, but nostalgia is only part of my obsession.
The frankie was invented in Mumbai by Amarjit Singh Tibb, following a trip to Beirut. In 1969, he concocted an Indian version of the Lebanese pita roll to serve hungry commuters who swung by his restaurant. He called his creation the frankie – a tribute to Frank Worrell, the West Indian cricket icon. Soon, the frankie would materialise at stalls under overpasses, on pavements and inside train stations.
It’s a dish shaped by another country’s food culture. It’s a fast food that would become a staple of home cooking. It’s a sandwich that counters the culinary clichés that still shape our perception of Indian food.
Dharmesh Rangparia is the founder of Chatkazz, the much-loved restaurant in Sydney's Harris Park that owes its following to a range of Indian street food that includes the likes of pani puri, pav bhaji and dahi vada – which can be difficult to find in Australia. There are over 200 items on its menu.
“When people think about Indian restaurants, they think about curries,” he tells me. “But Indian food is not only curry – there are thousands of other items you can order.”
When Rangparia was a student in Mumbai, he used to regularly visit his favourite frankie vendor. “I used to eat at Anand Stall, in front of Mithibai College – it is very famous for its frankies as well as its dosas and vada pav.”
He called his creation the frankie – a tribute to Frank Worrell, the West Indian cricket icon.
Indian food, especially seen through a Western lens, can be hamstrung by assumptions of ritual and tradition – grinding spices from scratch, slow-cooking curries. But the frankie, easy to make and conceived to be eaten on the go, is portable. It’s designed to be devoured with your hands while strolling between two places. Or consumed, hot off the pan, in your kitchen, exempt from formalities such as sitting down at the table.
“People can eat it while walking along,” says Rangparia.
Authenticity has never applied to the frankie. Rangparia, who is a vegetarian, says you can easily make a plant-based version or improvise when it comes to ingredients.
“You can make it without egg or make it vegan,” he says. “[At Chatkazz], we make our own masala and try many variations. We have the aloo frankie, a paneer 'chilly' frankie and an [Indian-Chinese] Schezwan frankie as well.”
The last time I was in Mumbai, nine years ago, it possessed the freewheeling energy I recall from childhood. It was a trip ruled by celebration, lunches and dinners and parties that blended endlessly into each other, a roll call of sensory delight.
To take a break from the chaos, my cousin took me out for a chicken frankie. At a chirpy red stall, by a frantic shopping strip, we bit into flatbread coated in egg and fried until golden, savoured the acidic tang of red onion. The zing of chaat masala. It was nearly a decade ago, but I remember it still.
Dharmesh Rangparia's veg aloo cheese frankie
Veg aloo cheese frankie is an Indian street food wrap stuffed with spicy potato, onion and grated cheese on the top. It tastes best when served alongside crispy potato chips, mint chutney and some tomato sauce.
- 4 tsp oil
- ½ tsp ginger paste
- ½ tsp green chilli paste
- 1 cup chopped onions
- ½ tsp garlic paste
- 500 g boiled potato, mashed
- ½ tsp red chilli powder
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- ½ tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp chaat masala
- 1 tsp mango powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 ½ tbsp tomato sauce
- 1 tbsp butter
- 4 tortilla wraps
- Mint sauce, to serve
- 1 cup grated cheese
- 2 tsp coriander, finely chopped
- Heat oil in medium-sized saucepan over low heat.
- Add ginger and chilli pastes to the pan and saute for 1-2 minutes.
- Add chopped onion and garlic paste to the same pan and mix together. Saute for just 1 minute – the onion should still be crunchy.
- Add boiled potato to the same pan and mix the ingredients thoroughly.
- Add red chilli powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, garam masala, chaat masala and mango powder to the same pan and mix the ingredients thoroughly.
- Add salt and 2 tbsp of tomato sauce to the pan and mix the ingredients thoroughly.
- Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture turns golden brown.
- To make one frankie, take a wrap (you can toast it in a pan or use as is).
- Spread a ¼ portion of butter and ¼ of the remaining tomato sauce on top of the wrap. Place the stuffing inside the wrap, roll tight and toast again if you want. Add some cheese on top and garnish with coriander, to taste. Enjoy the aloo frankie with extra tomato sauce and some mint sauce on side. Repeat for the remaining wraps.
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