Bulsho Cafe, 303 Racecourse Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 3557
In this case, the food and – presumably – the clientele is Somalian.
But individual differences and quirks aside, Bulsho Cafe could be Italian.
Or Polish or Croatian or Chinese or other African or Turkish or Vietnamese.
In its own way, it epitomises what I think of as “working men’s cafes”.
Or, more accurately, community hubs, hang-out joints and coffee stops for men, whether they be working or not.
You’ll rarely see women in such places.
You’ll rarely see them blogged or on Urbanspoon, either.
If they serve food – and it’s a big if – there’ll likely be no printed menu; just a hand-scrawled list, if that.
You’re mostly required to ask.
Such places can be quite daunting, but I’ve found often enough that perseverance and friendly inquiries can lead to fine food done dirt cheap and served with a welcoming smile.
My Sunday lunchtime experience at Bulsho, right next door to Flemington Kebab House, mirrors those experiences – and I’m eventually glad I hang in there.
Upon I entering, I see just a single customer, who is eventually joined by a mate, and no staff anywhere.
I hear sounds of activity emanating from the rear of the premises, but there’s no bell or other way of alerting the staff to the presence of willing customer.
I wait a few minutes and a few minutes more before deciding to split. That’s the way it goes at these sorts of places sometimes.
But as I am in the process of departing, I actually cop an eyeful of what the solitary customer is eating.
“Gosh,” methinks. “That looks good.”
So good, in fact, that I summon up some more perseverance by directing a robust, “Hello!” to the so-far unseen staff.
I am rewarded by a smiling young chap who is only happy to help ease my lunchtime fervour.
From there the process is easy …
“I want what he’s having,” I declare, gesturing towards the other customer.
It’s lamb curry with rice ($13).
Except, it’s not a curry at all. Or not in the way it’s generally understood.
Instead, it’s a lamb pieces on the bone – mostly shank, I think – in a clear broth of the same fashion as served by Safari in Ascot Vale or Ras Dashen in Footscray.
If the soup isn’t quite of the same spicy, piquant succulence as found in those two fine establishments, it’s good enough nonetheless.
Somewhat unexpectedly, given the nature of the meal and my previous experiences with similar feeds, the meat itself is quite different from the fall-from-the-bone kind I am expecting.
The meat is pleasantly chewy, comes from the bones easily enough with just a little effort and is ace in its own way. And there’s plenty of it.
A small pot of mild curry gravy is brought to my table after the rest of my meal, lubricating things nicely.
But the monarch of my meal is the plentiful rice – done in a way I am familiar with from other Somalian eateries, but here strongly perfumed with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.
Not for the first time, I have been handed a lesson – that good food in the west can sometimes require a bit more chutzpah than merely walking in, grabbing a menu and ordering.
And I think that’s a fine thing.
I would really love to hear other food hounds’ experiences – good, bad, indifferent, puzzling, frustrating, whatever – at such places as Bulsho.
There’s plenty of them, that’s for sure.
Yet they’re a part of our cultural and food landscape that goes largely unremarked.
As for women being rarely seen in them, I reckon that’s just an entrenched tradition – one I’d like to think is not based on any religious or cultural dogmas or taboos, such is the surprised delight I’ve invariably come across whenever I’ve chosen to make the effort.