Bulsho Cafe


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.

Bulsho Cafe on Urbanspoon

10 thoughts on “Bulsho Cafe

  1. Well done getting a meal here! I remember going to Bulsho soon after I opened about 6 years back (it was I think the 2nd or 3rd African establishment on Racecourse Rd). As you say, it epitomised the men’s club vibe. I sat down and waited and eventually a waitress approached me. After some lengthy enquiries she told me the only food they had was toast!

  2. Yeah I don’t know whether they really only had toast or if they were just so surprised to see me there that they figured I’d made a mistake and I couldn’t possibly like the home cooking🙂

    • very well said,that is 100% right,also it appears she didnt want give u food that u never eaten before incase u hate it or find it weird lol somalis are very hospitalble and welcoming even if they never seen white eater,kenny would probably know about this,how friendly somali restaurants are..but if u r somali women or non somali,u most probabaly feel very minority and sometimes feel u r in somali man club!!..but juz new somali kitchen in lemington is breaking the ice,hopefully the other somali restaurant will folow once they realise australian love somali food..

  3. It might have the same name but know the restaurant is completely different and has a new management. The food is exquisite although the place is filled with men. What they have improved in is that now there are rooms upstairs for women-like myself- who feel uncomfortable eating amongst many men!

    • i think the issue of somali restaurant is bigger than making room for women upstairs!,somali restaurants in australia is still struggling how to go about attracting non somali man!! somali women and non somalis sometimes feel very way out of their comfort zone to enter somali restaurant. it seems ethiopian restaurants had figured out this,but somalis its long way to go!!.. i only saw two somali restaurant in melbourne that are mainstream,its new somali kitchen on flemington and ya salam restaurant,the rest its somali men club!!

      • Yes, Maden. I have become a somewhat regular at New Somali Kitchen because I am treated like the regular I am. With a smile. That doesn’t mean there isn’t good and similar food elsewhere on Racecourse Road. The men’s club vibe extends way beyond Somalian or African places – there’s Viet, Italian, Balkan equivalents and more. I like them all and the welcome is never less than warm once you get beyond the initial awkwardness. But I do appreciate those places that make more of an effort to be welcoming to a broader clientele.

        On my last visit to New Somali Kitchen, I told the proprietor that in all my time visiting African restaurants in the west and in Melbourne generally, I never before come across a boss man who was wearing shorts. So that was a first!

  4. kenny i agree everything you said,but my point was some people could interpret things different,we are humans, for example, if me as african american went to italian restaurant and they tell me “they have only toast sandwich” while i am aware there is more than toast available in this restaurant!.ofcourse many negative things would come into my mind if i wasn’t aware the mainstream issue in new community like juz did!,i would probabaly say to my self, are they doing this to me because my american accent or black or watever!! i mean juz is so open minded and very aware of new community challenges that is spotted well the reason behins we have only toast today!..i will be surprised if u get less than smile and lots of love when u visit east african restaurant, the problem of east african restaurants is they make less effort of welcoming broader clientele due to lack of knowledge ,but let me tall u this ,when u step in east african restaurant,u be greated with smile and lots of love even if they never seen white perosn in their restaurant..also ethiopians they even go to great extend showing showing love to non ethiopians by NOT DINNING THEIR OWN RESTAURANTS!..i dont if u notice this or not,most of eaters in ethiopian restaurant are sudanese or white/asian!..because most of ethiopian would rather eat in non ethiopian restaurant and give their seat to non ethiopian in their restaurant!..that is why when u look awash,dinknesh lucy,abesha restaurants on barkily st on friday night or saturday night,they are less buzzling or quiet compared to vietnames restaurants,yet footscray is home to large african polpulation! and its one of the reason why ethiopian restaurant owners speak english to its african dinners,because they r not ethiopians!!..most ethiopians r drinking coffee in french/italian coffe beacuse they want share their food with others(non ethiopians)..and yes abdo(owner new somali kitchen wearing short) hahatrue ausy, haha i been to a lunch time once,and there were no seats,it looked they had regular lunch seekers from kesington/flemington offices!..

  5. its well know thing,east african restaurants are very welcoming be it mainstream or non mainstream that is why most eaters in east african restaurant in america are non africans!..footscray has bright future haha and i mean it..east africans they love business and are known to welcome non africans with smile,

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