22 November 2022

Harry Lal opens Riverina's first Punjabi-themed restaurant in Griffith

| Oliver Jacques
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Three men in restaurant bar

Vipul Lal, John Vasta and Harry Lal just before the grand opening. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A 30-year-old Indian-born employee of chicken producer Baiada has fulfilled his lifelong dream, opening a Punjabi restaurant in the centre of Griffith that offers dishes that can’t be found elsewhere in regional NSW.

Harry Lal’s eatery Swaad Punjab Da had an opening ceremony on Friday, 11 November, and is now taking bookings from the general public. It is at 198 Banna Ave, the site of the former Afghan Friendship Restaurant, which closed in 2021.

“I always wanted to have my own restaurant. My uncle is a chef, he does the catering for 1000 people in India and he really motivated me to have a go,” Mr Lal said.

READ ALSO Five minutes with Luke Piccolo of Limone Dining in Griffith

While there are many other Indian restaurants across the Riverina, Mr Lal’s venture is the first oriented towards his home state of Punjab.

Man outside restaurant

Harry Lal outside his new Griffith restaurant. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The Punjab is a province in India’s northeast, where the Sikh religion was founded. According to the 2021 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census, about 7 per cent of Griffith’s population are of Indian origin, most of them from the Punjab.

“The name Swaad Punjab Da is in our language, it means ‘taste from Punjab’. Swaad means taste. Punjab is our state. Da means from. I originally wanted to call it Taste of Punjab but that name was taken,” Mr Lal said.

“We have a lot of Punjabi dishes on the menu. We have gol gappe [crispy fried puffed balls filled with spicy potato], which all the girls love. We have bhel puri [crispy puffed rice mixed with spices].

”But we all have dishes from all over India, like butter chicken, momos [Nepali dumplings], and we have a special dish called the maharaja thali, which is a collection of all different curries and rice. In total, we have 111 dishes on the menu, the sort of options you only get in Sydney and Melbourne.”

Dishes such as bhel puri and gol gappe are popular Indian street foods rarely found in regional NSW. Renowned Griffith Italian chef Ben Di Rosa of Zecca Handmade Restaurant calls gol gappe, also known as pani puri, one of his favourite foods.

Mr Lal has spent the past three years building up to his grand opening night, putting a few original touches to his business.

“I ordered original Versace wallpaper from England, which took a while to arrive. We also have a VIP room.”

His kitchen and bar were made with help from John Vasta of Vasta Interiors. Mr Vasta brought his family to the restaurant on Saturday (12 November) to see the final product.

READ ALSO Five minutes with Ben Di Rosa, Zecca Handmade Italian Griffith

Opening a new restaurant was a major challenge given Griffith’s much-publicised skill and labour shortages.

“It was really hard to get staff, but I had lots of friends and family who are working for me. I want to thank my father, Hassan Lal, who helped me a lot. And my brother, Vipul.”

Empty restaurant

Swaad Punjab Da before opening. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith has traditionally been known for its authentic Italian eateries. Indian food is now the second most common in town, with 99 Spices, Apra Curry House, Shiva’s Food Court and Tandoori Flames all offering cuisine from the subcontinent.

More information on Swaad Punjab Da can be found on its Facebook page.

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