Cooking Circles volunteer Anna White sat down with Sunita and Sanjay of Daana. Here’s a little of that conversation!
Sunita and Sanjay Kumar, who run Daana restaurant in Curtin describe themselves as chefs and social entrepreneurs.
Sunita and Sanjay originally started their first restaurant in Canberra at the Westside Container Village. They specialised in Indian street food from this venue and it was a big hit.
Daana opened in September 2016. It was recently awarded 2017 Best New Restaurant ACT by the Restaurant and
Catering Association Savour Awards. The cuisine is predominantly South Indian and Coastal Indian. South Indian cooking is based around rice,lentils, and stews. Dishes such as dosa (a lentil and rice crêpe), idli (steamed lentil rice cakes), sambar (spicy lentil and vegetable stew) rasam (tomato, tamarind, and lentil soup)are all from the South.
Image: Sunita teaching a network of Cooking Circles members how to make Dosa at their Daana restaurant.
Sunita explains that “South Indian food is more nuanced and lighter than a lot of Indian food due to the warmer climate in the south”. It is a cuisine which uses a lot of coconut and tamarind as a souring ingredient
Daana has introduced something unique to Canberra and that is regional thalis. Thali is used to refer to an Indian-style meal made up of a selection of various dishes which are served on a platter.. At Daana, a cuisine from a different part of India is served every Saturday. So for example, in January at Daana, you could savour the cuisine of Goa, Gujarat, Mangalore and Updupi. An exciting way to experience the varied flavours of India while staying in Canberra!
Daana prides itself on good quality food and genuine warmth and hospitality. As well as having a love of cooking, Sunita and Sanjay also love to give and share. Once every three months, the restaurant holds a Karma Kitchen @ Daana. Customers pay as much as they wish and pay it forward for their meal and a portion of the proceeds is donated to a charity. People are invited to volunteer their time and skills in the kitchen or serving customers. They may also wish to entertain customers through providing music. This is truly a community event bringing people together in a unique way.
In 2017, Daana was nominated for the Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards. They actively employ people with special needs. The restaurant currently employs 14 people with varying ethnic backgrounds, skills and abilities. Sunita says that she and Sanjay “wish to add value to people’s lives through good food but also through enriching the community”.
Image: (L-R) Heidi, Sunita and Michele at the 2017 Dosa Making Workshop run by Sunita and Sanjay
Sunita and Sanjay came to Canberra six years ago to provide their children with better opportunities. At the same time they have contributed greatly to the community in which they live and work and helped us to discover the extraordinary variety of Indian cuisine.