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.

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