As someone famous once said: Inside every small problem is a larger problem struggling to get out. It’s not unusual for my life to be beset by problems, but one in particular has dogged me for a long time. I migrated to Melbourne from London about 22 years ago and in all that time my small problem has been a constant longing to cook food using fresh fenugreek, an unusual bitter herb often used in Indian cooking.
My bigger problem has been my inability to find a single shop in Melbourne that sold it. I found tonnes of fenugreek seeds, mountains of dry fenugreek leaves, and great slabs frozen fenugreek leaves (eventually), but not a single fresh fenugreek leaf. I had virtually given up the hunt until a couple of months ago when I chanced upon an Indian grocery in Burwood Road, Hawthorn, where six wilted bunches sat waiting to be bought.
The taste is exquisite and almost impossible to describe: slight maple syrup overtones with a distinct savoury celery flavor reminiscent of, well, my childhood actually. My parents migrated to London from India more than 50 years ago and I grew up eating my mum’s Aloo Methi (potato and fenugreek curry). Cook it with dill, coriander and waxy potatoes and you’ll be craving it like a madman for life.
I assume the rapid inflow of Indian international students over the past 20 or so years must have created a critical mass of people furiously demanding fenugreek that convinced grocers to finally stock it.
And since those students arrived, and now skilled Indian migrants too, there has been a veritable explosion of all things Indian everywhere. I note the big supermarkets now have an Indian section, a new subset of their ‘International aisle’, and Indian women are suddenly threading eyebrows all around town.
Melbourne is so much more Indian-flavoured now than it was 20 odd years ago. Melburnians are coming to grips with saris and samosas, Diwali and dowries. But there are a few mysteries we have yet to truly understand: one, what are those Indian taxi drivers muttering about on their mobile phones? Two, why do big burly Sikhs in turbans the size of UFOs always drive white vans? Three, how do Indian women, with a few nips, tucks and folds, turn six yards of shimmering silk into the most alluring, elegant and graceful outfit known to mankind?
Written by Sushi Das
Sushi Das is a journalist and author. Twitter: sushidas1