123 Swanston St
Too broke even for Don Don? Try Crossways, all you can eat sanctified vegetarian for a measly $6.50, or $5 if you’re a concession card holder (they do charge 50c extra for takeaway though).
Go up a narrow set of stairs on Swanston Street, and you’ll emerge in a spacious, loft-like space that will inevitably remind you of mess halls on school camps. Approach the counter and hand the friendly people behind it the change in your wallet (concession card optional), and in exchange they’ll hand you a huge plate piled with the curry of the day, rice, and pappadams. Go over to the drink station and pour yourself a drink – yoghurt lassi, cordial, or water (all served cold), and find yourself a seat at one of the communal tables before digging in. And if you're still hungry after you’ve finished, then go back up to the counter and grab dessert – a different flavour of halava served with warm custard each day. And if you’re one of those lucky few who have a magical expanding stomach, then feel free to go back for refills until you’ve had all that you can eat. After you have eaten your fill, grab your plate and scrape it down into the waste bucket, and your Crossways experience is complete.
The food here is simple and nourishing; absolutely nothing to write home about, but comforting and pleasant all the same. It’s a very good option for the vegetarians, budget conscious, big appetites, and the people who just like Indian food. And if the food is simple, then the service and ambience is simpler. Your $6.50/$5 obviously mainly goes towards the price of the food and the cost of keeping the place running. You scrape your own plates, share your table with strangers, and the air conditioning can only be felt in the back half of the room. But that all just adds to the unique camp-like charm of the place.
Unlike the food and service however, the premise of Crossways Food For Life is a bit more complex. Their website says that they serve ‘vegetarian karma-free, sanctified meals’, and it does show. There is a strict no meat, no alcohol policy, and there is an emphasis on ancient Indian spirituality, shown through the religious paintings and slogans posted on the walls, as well as the pamphlets and mini-books sitting on each of the tables for the customers to browse through as they eat. All the people who work here are volunteers, and they also have an outreach program for the homeless and the needy. In a nutshell, there is more to Crossways than what meets the eye.
Crossways is open Monday to Saturday, and there is a rotating menu. Shame it’s only open for lunch (11:30-3:30) though, so if you want your karma-free vegetarian fix any other time, then you’d do best to head to Gopals, the sister restaurant of Crossways just up the road, which is open until 8pm each day.
Rating: 13/20 – go if you’re hungry or poor, or just go for the experience