Even just writing about Maya Vegetarian, at 468-472 Cleveland Street, in Surry Hills, makes me crave Indian food. Maya is worth crossing the border for and I do so regularly just to eat there (but I dash back to Darlinghurst once I have eaten).
Maya is one of those restaurants that you need to eat at, at least once every one or two months, for nourishment. Even on the days when I have gone to Maya, and not been that excited or hungry, the moment I walk inside and I'm hit by the smell of their curries, I'm suddenly famished and end up eating like a pig. My excuse for eating so much is because nothing else tastes like it, and I'd never be able to replicate the dishes at home. I almost always go there with my friend, photo-meister John Webber, so that I am not alone in my pigginess.
Maya is nothing fancy, just a little canteen on busy Cleveland Street that has wooden chairs and tables without cloths, spread across two dining rooms with tiled floors. You order at the counter, take a number on a stand, find some cutlery, napkins and plastic cups of water, and then hopefully gain a seat facing out towards Cleveland Street so you can watch the world go by.
There are a few large-screen televisions mounted on the walls, which feature the latest Bollywood extravaganza, just to set the mood.
For a while the walls were decorated in photographs of the owner's expensive sports car, but at the moment they are dotted with small blackboards with cute quotes, such as, ''I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals, I'm a vegetarian because I hate plants - A. Whitney Brown''.
I almost always go to Maya on Sundays when I am feeling a little rat-shit from the night before and need pepping up. I was there last Sunday, with John Webber, and we ordered what we always order on Sundays. First up, Lassi:
And before we have even taken three sips, the waiter arrives with our Aloo Tikki:
The Aloo Tikki is only available on weekends and is a bargain at $5.90. Aloo means potato and Tikki means cake - I think - so it is basically two large potato cakes, dressed with chickpea curry, spicy sauces, some crunchy Indian noodle-ish snacks, slices of fresh red onion and coriander leaves.
This is perhaps not the best photograph, because once again I have dived in before remembering to take a picture (because it is just so tasty) but you must go to Maya this weekend and order it.
The other dish we always share is the South Indian Thali for $13.90. I prefer the South to the North, because you are given pooris with the South, and japatis with the North. And I love pooris, those flaky, hot, puffy rounds of bread that are best torn apart and then used as a claw to pick up the curries.
Thali refers to the round metal dish that the seven little metal pots, rice, pooris, pickle, papadum, fresh cucumber and tomato are served upon. The seven little pots contain four overly-yummy curries, rasam, which is a sourish, thin, lentil and tomato soup, raita and a creamy rice and pistachio dessert.
My favourite curry, which we weren't given this weekend, is made from kidney beans or some dark, small bean, which is sitting in the most scrumptious sauce that maybe has a dash of cream. I have no idea what it is called but one day I am going to plead our favourite, dark-eyed waiter for the recipe. That curry is so good, it could pass for meat, but it is all, purely vego.
The other curries, either dry or in gravy, are usually a mix of vegetables or lentils or a combination of both, but each have their own unique flavours, textures and levels of spiciness.
Maya Vegetarian must have been so successful the owners were able to open a meat version, Maya Da Dhaba, across the road about six years ago. Then about four years ago they opened Maya Tandoori in the floor above Maya Vegetarian. Business is booming and I am so happy for them because in about 2001 the kitchen of Maya Vegetarian burnt down and they had to close the doors and start from scratch.
Maya Da Dhaba and Maya Tandoori are good, but I have only eaten there a few times, whereas I continually return to Maya Vegetarian.
And despite the fact that I am always so disgustingly full when I have finished the thali, I always make sure to grab a take-out gulab jaman in sugary syrup from their extensive sweets selection, to eat later.
468-472 Cleveland Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
02 9699 8633