Bulsho Cafe

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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.

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Safari Restaurant

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Safari Restaurant, 159 Union Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 7175

It’s been far too long since we’ve sailed in the Safari – certainly at least since our early review of this fine Somalian eatery.

So long, in fact, we’re not even sure if it’ll be functioning as we remember on this Friday night with appetites inspired by some overdue winter outfitting.

The Consider The Sauce boys have been shopping and are hungry.

Happily, as we enter we discover everything is as we remember it. Indeed, the place seems busier than was the case on any of our previous visits.

The menu, however, seems to have been streamlined somewhat, but as we soon learn – to our complete and joyful satisfaction – the food is the same and just as good as ever.

We toy with idea of ordering Big Mandy Rice For Two ($32), but this is described to us in terms of being good for big fellas, very hungry.

So we back off and discover there’s a menu item just made for us – The Regular ($13).

This consists of a plate of Mandy Rice and your choice of lamb, beef, chicken steak or fish.

As on previous visits, our bowls of their incredible meat soup are brought before we’ve even placed our order proper.

This is a broth of lip-smacking sensations – spicy, heady with meatiness yet light on meat itself.

It’s simply wonderful.

Bennie’s chicken steak – hidden under a tasty array of grilled sautéed carrot, capsicum and onion – is more plentiful than it looks. The chicken meat is tending towards dryness but falls short enough of that to pass for tender, and has a wonderful charred-like flavour.

I like his chicken, he digs my lamb.

The sheep meat has form and structure yet is far from chewy and falls easily from the bones.

In both our cases, the rice is splendid – cooked in stock, spiced, every grain glistening.

As ever, our meals are helped along by long, tall glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice clinking with ice cubes.

Killer soup, terrific meat, sensational rice, just the right kind of vegetable accompaniment, freshly squeezed juice … $13.

This is a fantastic bargain.

The service here is friendly but efficient.

We can’t recommend Safari highly enough to anyone hankering for African eating a bit different from Footscray’s mostly Ethiopian fare.

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Baraka Restaurant

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121 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 0432 492 299

UPDATE 10/11/11: This restaurant appears to have closed its doors.

Menus? Who needs them!

That’s one of several profound lesson I have learnt since starting Consider The Sauce.

Where once I was timid and always veering towards fuss-free and non-confrontational dining out, I have become bolder, more curious and more adventurous.

In fact, the absence of a menu – let alone one handily pinned in an establishment’s window – is becoming a positive spur to perseverance.

Of course, a lack of menus at eating places doesn’t guarantee you’ll get great food just by asking.

But, as I have found to grand enrichment, sometimes you will.

Even better, the required inquisitiveness leads to face-to-face engagement with the people behind the restaurants that goes way beyond mere stabbing a digit at a menu, ordering and eating.

There’s nothing like inquiring along the lines of “Are you open for lunch, what have you got, how much is it, I’m hungry?” for raising smiles all round.

At Baraka, for instance, I get to meet young Mahamud Farah and enjoy the glowing pride he is taking in running the family business and his excitement about serving the tucker of his Somalian ancestry.

He promises that the next time I visit he’ll run the place’s lamb soup/broth by me, and based on luscious experiences at Safari, Yemeni Restaurant and Khartoum Centre, that’s something to be anticipated with relish.

In the meantime, I am well pleased with my mid-week lunch.

It’s no surprise that in talking with Mahamud I discover my options fall broadly into the meat-and-rice or pasta categories.

A young family is tucking into a communal bowl of spaghetti nearby, but the African/pasta connection is one I have yet to get my head around. Perhaps it’s because we eat so much pasta at home. It’s something to work on, though, as so many African eateries do pasta and ignoring the colonial Italian influence on north African food is a form of denial.

In the meantime, meat-and-rice it is.

Despite the lack of a menu, I have – by now – a good idea of what is coming my way.

The rice is bare bones but wonderful. No vegetable quotient, not even onion; just perfect rice cooked in stock and seasoned with a little pepper. The lamb stew that sits atop the rice is mild almost to the point of blandness, but is fixed right smartly with liberal usage of the little pot of chilli sauce that accompanies.

Another plate has pan-fried lamb that is much more tasty, with fat that is easily trimmed. Alongside is a salad of lettuce, spring onions, onion and capsicum that is just right.

My $13 lunch come with a glass of an OK mango/lemon drink, while a bottle of chilled water is placed on my table well before the food arrives.

This is simple, plain food with a kick. I am coming to think of this sort of north African fare as the Footscray equivalent of American soul food. I love it lots.

Thanks to the big telly right opposite my table, I am privileged to share my lunch with that noted ethnic tucker zealot Bill O’Reilly.

The sound is turned down as that rascal does his thing on his Fox News TV show, but I just know he’s raving about cheap eats rather than banging on about what an evil comminist the prez is. On ya, Bill!

Baraka has been open a month.

The premises it inhabits formerly housed a relatively formal Indian place that was short-lived. I never got to try it out as it was never open when I passed by. Before that it was a cheapo Indian place of no great distinguishment.

The place’s Indian history is still plain to see via the art work that continues to adorn the walls.

As time goes by, I hope Mahamud makes the place his own and finds himself with a winner on his hands.

Amin Cafe

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Little Khartoum Arcade/The Footscray Hub. Phone: 0401 008 957

The signs at either end – one on Nicholson St, the other on Albert St – still describe it as The Footscray Hub “Business Centre” – but in some quarters at least it is known as Little Khartoum Arcade.

Walking through it has become one of the “secret” treasures of living in the west.

There are money transfer places, shops selling T-shirts and cosmetic products, others with perfumes and spices – and even a few old-style barber establishments, one that recently gave me a fine haircut.

All of it speaks of Footscray’s African diaspora with a relaxed and “we belong” vibe.

The only disappointment for me has been the lack of an eatery from which to chow down and enjoy the great atmosphere.

I walked past the only place selling food many times, but was unimpressed by scant display of large samosas – sambusas in African parlance – so ambled on, bound ususally for Babylon or some other food place.

Than I heard  a whisper that more substantial fare was available from Amin Cafe for the asking.  I think I heard this very valuable information from Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog, but have been unable to find proof in either emails or blogs.

In any case, thanks!

For this information inspired me to inquire – with happy results.


After a brief discussion with the welcoming proprietor – yes, I am hungry, yes meat and rice will be fine – I am served with a meal that, no surprise, was familiar from our delicious forays to another Somalian refuge, Safari Restaurant in Ascot Vale.

My $12.50 lunch had some pan-fried lamb (halib) that looked a little gray and lacklustre, but was fine and tender. Also on board was a terrific chicken drumstick (doora), slightly coated with bread crumbs and seasoned. And there were some lettuce and tomato for colour and crunch.

But the star was the rice – as with so many of our experiences with north African and Middle Eastern food.

This was magic – but magic of a minimalist kind.

No sultanas, strands of fried onion, peas, almonds or other colour – just the odd bit of translucent onion and perfect rice, cooked in chicken stock with some lemon pepper and a seasoning mix called Zacin.

All my lunch was very mildly seasoned, but a small plastic tub of a fiery chilli condiment helped kick things along.

There are only three small tables at Amin Cafe, but they’re all taken as I enjoy my meal – all by what appear to be regulars.

As well, there was a steady trade from what I take to be similarly frequent customers for the sambusas – either lamb or fish – so I buy two for my next day’s work lunch. Even cold they’re good – lamb in one, canned tuna in the other, both with fine chewy pastry and filling given texture from cooked but still crunchy onion.

I’ll be back to Amin Cafe, for it gives me the same delectable satisfaction as eating at the communal table in the kitchen at Pelligrini’s in the CBD


Safari Restaurant

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159 Union Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 7175

Yes, another gem in Union Rd – this one just as tasty, affordable and, in its own mesmerising way, just as exotic as Yemini Restaurant up the road a piece.

Like that joint, Safari Restaurant’s stock in trade is a roll call of meat, veg and carbs.

As such it seems an ideal place for those who find the very idea of tibs, doro wat, injera and other items bought to Melbourne’s inner west by the African diaspora a step too far or just too weird to even contemplate eating.

Describing Safari’s food as “meat and three veg”, though, does it a grave disservice – for this Somalian fare is much, much more delicious than that humble label implies.

Bennie and I have been regular visitors this year, but for my most recent lunch I was joined by my fellow DeadHead Kurt.

There was a little confusion while ordering, so we ended up both getting the $17 meal of lamb (hilib, on the bone, three pieces), rice (barris) and accompaniments.

This was overload for lunch, so it’s helpful to know that there’s a $15 version available, with the rice and meat coming on the same plate, and the same side dishes and vegetables provided.

But even at $17, our lunches fully qualified for a hearty western suburbs cheap eats thumbs up.

You see, at Safari meals come with what, in New Orleans and South Louisiana, is referred to as “lagniappe” – that is, “a little something special”.

In this case, that involves, first up, a long, cool drink – either freshly squeezed orange juice clinking with ice cubes, or a much sweeter and richer milk-based concoction that I personally find too cloying.

Second comes a bowl of soup.

Bowl of soup? That sounds miserable and woefully inaccurate to describe what is clearly the most delicious thing I’ve eaten this year thus far.

It’s a bowl of simple broth, yes – modestly seasoned with a little chili, coriander, lemon pepper and garlic. You may even find a few strands of meat, or the odd slice of carrot.

But at it’s heart this is simply, magnificently Essence Of Lamb As A Work Of Art.

Gosh, it’s good!

On to our main courses – and more magic.

The rice was plain, but brilliant –  seasoned, again with restraint, with garlic and coriander, and cooked in vegetable stock. Worthy of gleeful inhalation.

My three pieces of lamb, one of which was a cutlet, were tender, tasty and wonderfully free of fat and/or gristle  – not always the case with food such as this.

Completing the picture were some good salad greens and a goodly amount of a sensational pan-fried jumble of onion, carrot and capsicum, which was heaven with the rice and generous smears of the tangy chili sauce provided.

As a point of difference, Kurt split his carb order 50/50 between rice and spaghetti. The pasta was OK – but it was just pasta, and certainly not a patch on the divine rice.

After our wonderful lunch, we spent some time chatting to owner Mohamed Shide about his food, the restaurant, its multinational clientele and the story that brought him to Australia and, finally, his own eating shop in Ascot Vale.

It’s a long story that involves war, many years, separation from family and other trials and tribulations – the sort of moving odyssey that is so intrinsic to Australia.

So happy were we with our repast and our conversation with Mohamed that I gaily strolled away without paying. Happily, I also left my wallet on the counter, necessitating my return anyhow.

As I reclaimed my wallet and attempted to pay, Mohamed attempted to wave my money away – unsuccessfully.

Mohamed, my friend, that’s simply not what I’m about.

If by writing this I can can send a few more people through your door, that’ll be all the payment I could wish.

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