157 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 006
There is much more to Ethiopian food – and the broader north African food culture that has become such integral part of western suburbs life – than injera.
But in many ways, injera is emblematic of colours, flavours and aromas that are so alluring.
So I am thrilled beyond words to be invited to witness injera being made at Lemat Bakery, in the heart of Footscray’s lovely African hub of Nicholson St.
The establishment is managed – and the injera made – by Sesen Assefa. Her genial and voluble husband prefers to stay in the background, but is happy to provide me all the information I need.
The couple met in the very early ’90s, in Sudan, and like so many endured many long years in exile and of menial jobs before opening their bakery in 2006 – just as the influx of north African diaspora into Melbourne’s west began in earnest.
In Ethiopia, injera is made with teff.
As it will soon be in Australia, restrictions on its importation apparently having been lifted or soon to be.
Given that teff is a grain of mightily ancient heritage, I reckon this can only be a good thing in a world in which the shrinking gene pool and diversity of seed stores is under threat.
In the meantime, like the Vietnamese community and others before them, the folks at Lemat have been doing just fine with what’s at hand, modifying recipes with locally available ingredients for the best, most authentic results.
That means the injera we have all been enjoying is made with a mixture of flours – maize, self-raising and wholemeal wheat, sorghum and barley.
The batter is fermented for 24 hours – no yeast or other agents are used – before being deftly poured on to hot, round platters.
In a minute or so, the injera – smooth side down, spongy side up – is ready to be equally skillfully slipped on to straw mats and placed on long tables with the rest of the day’s order.
As well the bakery produces “sweet”, unfermented injera for its Sudanese customers.
The Lemat output is split between restaurants, groceries and families.
The aroma is like that of any other bakery – but in many ways so very different. And quite intoxicating!
Out front, I delight in a half-hour conversation with Mr Lemat – a virtual crash course for me that ranges from injera and Ethiopian food in general through to Coptic Christianity, the dynamics of “facebook revolution” and the role they are playing in north Africa (including Algeria that very morning), the equally fascinating nuances and subtleties that accompany inter-actions between the various African communities in Footscray (and Melbourne in general), contemporary Ethiopia, the Sundanese separation referendum and much more.
As we are talking, the manager of Awash comes and goes with her daily order of injera, but it is no less likely that the staff of Khartoum – just a few doors up the street, and nominally a Sudanese restaurant – will drop in for injera to go with the Ethiopian dishes on their menu.
My humble thanks to the people of Lemat Injera Bakery for sharing with me their stories and their baking skills.