Ethiopian … in Fitzroy?



Saba’s Ethiopian Restaurant, 328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 8589 0442

Of the foodie friends we break bread with, Marketa and Nick are two lovely folks whom we see too little of.

So I am only to happy to agree to a proposal to join them at a new Ethiopian eatery … in Fiztroy.

Turns out that Marketa and the Saba after whom the restaurant is named know each other from another place – a gym!

For Marketa, this will a first try of Ethiopian tucker; not so for Nick, though his single encounter is just a fading memory.




But even for me, veteran of so much western suburbs Ethiopian food, there will be something new.

As recounted in this story about Lemat Injera Bakery, for most of the Ethiopian community’s time in Australia, the grain from which injera is made – teff – was not allowed to be imported.

So the injera makers – as cultures have done through the ages – experimented and adapted, using a mix of grains, until they created something like, well, injera.

Those import restrictions have been lifted now but as far as I know this will be my first ever encounter with teff injera.

I arrive early so have time to talk with Saba and her staff about injera and Ethopian food in Melbourne.




The eatery – smack dab in the middle of Brunswick Street’s hipster heaven – is bright and light and the staff do a fine job.

As we’re enjoying our meal, people are being turned away.

Seems like Saba’s is going to fit right in in Fitzroy!

But Fitzroy isn’t Footscray so I have been bracing myself for prices way above what I’d pay for similar food much closer to home.

So, upon perusal of the menu (see below), I am pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the prices are above what we all pay on Nicholson Street or thereabouts – but not ridiculously so.

I’m happy to be in the house and catching up with my friends.




Other differences between Saba’s and the western suburbs Ethiopian eateries are the names of the dishes.

I don’t get around to asking Saba why this is so – but can tell, reading between the lines of the dish descriptions, that I am going to be eating in familiar territory.

Saba places a restraining hand on our eagerness in terms of ordering too much.

So what we end up with is a splendid Ethiopian meal of one meat dish, one pulse offering and two vegetable dishes.




It’s all very good, including the carrots-cabbage-spuds of dinish ($16) and the “side dish” beetroot, here called key sir ($12).

Our meat selection, keyih sebhi ($23.50) is a wonderfully rich, deep red stew of lamb with just the right chilli kick.

It’s almost like an Ethiopian bolognese!

As for injera made from teff, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice much difference – maybe this injera was a bit plumper.





‘Wow!’ in Tarneit

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Ya Salam Cafe and Restaurant, 20 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 97486 860

The Arabic “ya salam” translates as “that’s fantastic!” or “wow!” – and that’s pretty much how I feel upon visiting and enjoying a brand new African eatery in Tarneit.

Taking the scenic route along from Laverton and along Sayers Road, what awaits me in Tarneit – what kind of operation, what kind of food – has been a mystery.

So I am delighted to discover a new and brightly appointed eatery that has been open just a few days.

It’s located on a small retail strip that looks out to the Wyndham Village shopping centre, home to a newish branch of Dosa Hut.

Ya Salam shares the Lavinia Drive space with an Indian eatery (on one side) and (on the other) what appears to be a charcoal chicken place but is in reality a full-on Lebanese place.




How’s that?

Instant foodie destination!

Ya Salam proprietor Mohammed tells me business, so far generated by little more than word of mouth, has been good.

He’s finding his new project is appealing to not just the local east African community of about 300 families but also the Muslim folks and the community generally.

The heart of what he and his team are doing at Ya Salam is Somalian food but the menu (see below) also features a hefty Middle Eastern component along with dishes that display Mediterranean and even European influences – breakfast, too!

Readers can rest assured, though, that this sensible, broad-sweep approach in no way diminishes the quality of what’s being served.




I am served a complementary bowl of soup to go with my main dish – it’s listed on the menu as “Yasalam soup” on the menu, so I am not sure if this is going to be part of the regular routine.

Does it look familiar?

It is!

It’s basically the same lamb broth-based concoction that is served at our beloved Safari in Ascot Vale.

This version may not be quite as tangy but it is equally rich in flavour.




“Slow-cooked lamb shoulder” ($16.95) is also familiar, with its trademark and super cooked-in-stock rice.

Perhaps it may have been more visually appealing had the meat been browned off a bit.

But as with all places who cook these kinds of lamb cuts this way, I love the undeniable depth of meaty flavour.

And there’s lots of it.




Moving on over to the more Middle Eastern aspects of the menu, mixed grill is a bargain at $12.90.

It comes with the same rice and salad, a “chapati” and a tub of exuberantly garlicky dip.

There’s a skewer apiece of lamb, chicken and …




… lamb kofta, which is served separately as it takes a little while longer to cook.

They’re all terrific.





Meal of the week No.18: Walia Ibex




A lively FB discussion – inspired by a fellow blogger’s story about a Seddon institution and concerning the pros and cons of various Footscray African eateries – has me very much in the mood for injera and the stuff that goes with it.

But I’m not in Footscray.

I’m in Sunshine.

So I very happily hit Walia Ibex (197 Hampshire Road, 9312 3090).

This is a sister enterprise to the one a few blocks away.

That one is, I’m told, dedicated entirely these days to coffee and billiards.

If you want Ethiopian food, it’s to the Hampshire Road one you should head.

And you should.

While I continue to find it surprising that AFAIK this is the sole African eatery hereabouts, based on my profoundly enjoyable lunch, it’s at least a fine thing to know it’s a good one!




It’s a cosy place with an upstairs dining room.

Upon my arrival, the vapid nonsense of commercial TV is blaring forth.

Soon after, the audio is extinguished – leaving me and the other customers happily with just the familiar sounds of low-key, funky Ethiopian jazz.

The longish Walia Ibex menu has all the usual Ethiopian staples, and while I don’t check too closely, there may even be a few unusual items in there.

The standard vegetarian combo of yetesom beyayneto costs $12.




But I’ve a hankering for something lighter, healthier, cheaper – so foul it is.

I know there’s folks who would consider $10 a bit too much to pay for such a humble dish.

But so good is the Walia Ibex rendition that I consider it a bargain.

The creamy beans are hot and plentiful, anointed with onion, tomato, capsicum, egg, cheese and just enough chilli to make things even more interesting.

I’m provided, by request, injera instead of bread.

It’s a magical lunch.

Sometimes, often, that’s how it goes with the simplest of dishes.



All’s well at Awel

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Awel African Restaurant Bar & Cafe,  2/250 Hight Street, Melton. Phone: 9746 6483

Ahhh – a free-hearted romp up the highway to Melton.

Somewhere along the way, I’d learned that an African restaurant had been established in Melton.

My impromptu journey is aimed at checking it out.

This is a trip I’ve been wary of undertaking even just a few weeks earlier.

Since then, new tyres all round and a long overdue service had been booked and paid for, so I’m a happy chappy heading into the sunrise.

Especially with Millie Jackon, backed by the pride of Muscle Shoals, wailing at length about the woes of her love life.

Once parked in Melton’s High Street, I find Awel no problem.

The restaurant is a breezy, casual affair, with a different and bright tablecloth on each table.

A couple of those tables are occupied as I peruse the menu.

It’s a mix of Ethiopian dishes – there’s wats and tibs and the like – and dishes I suspect have a Sudanese flavour.




I go Ethiopian, though, with zilzil alicha ($12.90), which is described as diced lamb and seasoned vegetables slowly cooked in a green pepper sauce and seasoned with ginger and jalapenos.

It’s a typical Ethiopian meat dish, like a wet tibs.

The serve looks modest of size but is more than filling enough.

And best of all, it has a big chilli kick of the kind often promised by East African food but not always delivered.

The simple, crunchy salad, for which I am charged a little extra, is very good.

After my dinner, I chat for a good while with Amiol, who runs the restaurant with his wife, who happen to be in Africa catching up with the rellies.

Like her, Amiol is of Sudanese background.

He tells me Awel has been going for about five months and that the reaction of locals has been favourable.

But he is bemused by the outlook of some in the significant Melton East African community.

“In their heads, when it comes to food, they’re still back in Footscray,” her says. “They like our food but say, ‘Oh, if only you were in Footscray …'”

People can be so nutty!

Come on Meltonites – support this colourful and fine addition to your culinary line-up!

As I cruise on to the Western Highway home, Millie and the Swampers kick in to a funkified version of Feel Like Making Love.

I cackle and pound the steering wheel.

What use doing anything else?



Super Somalian in Flemo

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East African Restaurant, 28 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0434 518 867

What a pleasure it is to welcome a new place to one of our favourite eats strips, Racecourse Road in Flemington.

Mind you, the premises that house East African Restaurant have hosted some sort of hospitality industry activity as long as I can remember.

But that activity always seemed to be of the coffee house/social club/meeting point of the blokey kind that is a staple of all sort of multicultural communities across the west … so we never paid it much interest.

Then, a few weeks back, new signage went up that strongly seemed to indicate the place was making a more concerted effort at getting its food out to a broader public.




Issa (pictured at top) has owned the business for about a year and is indeed setting out to win more customers.

The place is charming in its ethnic cafe simplicity of trestle tables and relaxed vibe.




During my time there, a number of regulars come and go … all of them, save a pale-skinned mum and son, are African gents, some wearing various degrees of traditional attire and some wearing taxi driver garb; there’s a few kids in among the mix, too!

I suspect Issa may be working on a menu proper, but in the meantime I like it a lot that there is none and that the boss man comes to my table to run down the food line-up for me verbally.

Who needs menus?

After quizzing Issa a bit about such things as soup, I tell him I will have whatever is the most popular.

This turns out to be an excellent move – what I get is not only very good but reassuringly familiar.


east 1


What Issa calls “mixed food” ($12) he also calls “federation” … ah, yes the same federation as found at Ascot Vale’s Safari just up the road apiece, and every bit as good.

It’s all there and in good, delicious nick …

Tangy broth/soup that in this case has a touch of the curry powder about it.

Wonderful stock-cooked rice.

(As with the many previous times I have eaten this food, it seems like the soup and the incredible rice are the standards by which the meal should be judged.)

Heaps of dry-sauced spaghetti.

The pan-fried lamb with onion is actually rather wet, making it a bit like a stew – and that’s good, too!

The two lamb chops appear to be on the small side and as if they may be a bit tough. They’re not, and as for size … well, I fail to complete my meal anyway, so large is it, so they’re fine.

I could have done with a bit more the sautéed veg, but it’s been a great feed, indeed.




Halfway through my lunch, however, I realise something is missing … and am duly presented with a cup of chilli sauce.

It looks like hot stuff, so I dab it on my meat and rice rather sparingly.

It’s a wise move.

Issa tells me a broader range of food, including injera-based meals, is available during the week.

I plan on trying some of them soon.

Wonderful Ethiopian




Ras Dashen, 121 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 3293

A chance Sunday night encounter in the Yarraville IGA finds me dining out in downtown Footscray on a Tuesday night with friends and friends of theirs.

Ethiopian is the preference and Ras Dashen is my suggestion.

I’ve been here a couple of times by myself though not recently.

So I’m a little concerned about how we might go so early in the week with a table of five that includes two vegetarians.

I need not have fretted as what we receive is magnificent.

The beyaynetu veg selection is provided at an amazing $10 per head – so the wonderful spread pictured above costs us $50.

Two kinds of lentils – aspicy and rich red number and a yellowish dal-like mix.

A jumble of mixed vegetables, a bowl of delightful beetroot and a typically zingy salad.

It’s all delicious.

On the side, I order the fitifit or beef rib soup ($10) enjoyed on a previous visit.

If anything, if it seems bigger, more meaty and wonderful than before. The broth is pungent – it comes across a bit like an Ethiopian version of pho, but without the star anise and so on.

It’s my new Favourite Thing.

Finally, our table snags a serve of zilzil tibs ($12, sorry no pic usable!).

This is unlike any tibs dish I’ve previously encountered.

It’s very dry, with pan-fried beef strips that have been rubbed – and I’m pretty much guessing here – cumin, a little chilli, salt, pepper and garlic.

It, too, is excellent.

The service we have been given has been beaut and it’s been a fine thing to see a Footscray Ethiopian joint bustling with activity so early in the week..

So very Footscray




Cafe D’Afrique, 137 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 9411

Consider The Sauce was once a regular – a few years back – at Cafe D’Afrique.

But for coffee only.

It was excellent coffee at an equally excellent price.

But I never got a handle on the food situation.

Sometimes there seemed to activity in the kitchen, sometimes not.

Sometimes some customers were eating, more often – IIRC – no one was.

Certainly, there was no menu or blackboard.

So I gave it up, and even moved on from coffee visits as work and other activities had me looking elsewhere.




But today, having completed a few chores nearby, I spy at least half the 20 or so customers chowing down.

“This is ridiculous,” thinks I. “There’s food here – and I want to try it”

So I initiate a to-and-fro discussion with genial gent I take to be the owner.

“Beans,” says he.

This would be the foul I see being happily consumed by several customers.

“Anything else?”

“Meat …”

“How much?”



Ordering done, I take a seat at a back table and wait.

But not for long.




I’m very happy with my lunch.

The salad is typically African – fresh, zingy and powdered with pepper.

The lentils are mush, mild and nice.

The lamb is fantastic – lean, pan-fried, free of fat and gristle, seasoned with something that could be just plain curry powder but definitely includes turmeric.

It’s a beaut, light, tasty and satisfying lunch.




An ultra-low coffee price means nothing if the brew isn’t good.

Still, I’m stunned to discover the admission price for my cafe late is STILL $2.50 – same as it was several years ago.

Best of all, my coffee is utterly excellent.

I’m told the name of the Sudanese dish I’ve just enjoyed is cheya. From what I can gather from Mr Google, this means something like “fried meat”.

As I depart, I see a recently arrived customer served what appears to be tibs and injera, so there’s more going on here than the absence of a menu might seem to indicate.

But you do need to ask.

Personally, I enjoy this sort of scenario – it requires enjoyable engagement that can be missed by merely pointing at a menu entry.

It feels good to be fed and back on familiar terms with such a righteous Footscray fixture.