Somali Star Cafe, Footscray Hub (arcade between Nicholson and Albert streets).
The Footscray Hub arcade mostly seems wonderfully changeless in its lively Africaness.
But it’s only ever had, to the best of our knowledge, a single food outlet among its various hairdressers, clothes shops and more.
These days that shop goes under the moniker Somali Star and is, I reckon, at least the third incarnation of that food space.
It’s a small – there’s two simple booths so seating is restricted.
But most customers are of the takeaway variety and come and happily go for the sambusas.
The sign saying “the sambussa is back” is, we reckon, a bit misleading.
Because we’ve had these African versions of the samosa from here before – but never like this.
Oh no, these are bigger and better by quite some margin …
… and, in the case of our lamb number, absolutely delicious, the flaky pastry generously stuffed with minced meat, onion and herbs.
And at $3.50, they’re a superb, dead-set bargain.
Effectively a light meal all on their own, it’s a sure thing these henceforth will feature at least once a week in CTS work/school lunches.
But while our sambusa is profoundly enjoyable, it is a holding pattern – pretty much – for our more substantial plates.
Unlike its predecessors in this space, Somali Star has a wall-mounted menu, from which we are happy to make our selections.
We’re warned there’ll be a wait time of about 15 minutes. But we don’t mind that as we very much enjoying the moment.
That wait time stretches to more than 20 minutes but we continue to care not – even when one of dishes is forgotten, or did not register in the first place.
What we get is unfussy, very enjoyable Somalian food.
Pasta/beef ($12) displays the Italian influence on north African food.
The noodles go just right with a sauce that is a bit like a Somalian version of spag bol.
Both are excellent.
The salad bits on the side are fresh and zingy and the commercial chilli sauce is added at our request.
The rice/lamb ($13) comes without adornments – maybe because it has been rushed once the friendly realised our order for it had gone awol.
We’re familiar with Somalian rice being cooked in stock, seasoned with the likes of pepper and cardamom and served with slivers of onion.
This rice is quite different, pan fried (I think) with onion and small meat chunks.
The lamb is something else.
Normally, when eating lamb in neigbourhood/street food places, be they Indian, African or other, we are used to getting lovely meat that is nevertheless sporting its fair share of bone, fat and/or gristle.
We don’t mind that at all, as the quality cooking of the meat itself invariably outweighs the extraneous bits.
We admire the cooking skill that makes such delicious food out of the cheapest cuts of meat.
In the case of this here Somali Star lamb, we get all the cooking skill and none of the rest – save for the single, visible bone piece.
The meat is very simply cooked/grilled, and – as far as I can tell – unseasoned.
But it is so wonderful, tender and yummy that I reckon a heap of much flasher eateries/pubs/cafes would be happy to serve it and charge a whole bunch more in the process.
Soul food is a term bandied about a bit these days, often in tandem or alongside BBQ food of the American variety.
Given my interest in American roots music and culture, I find that appealing.
But when such food is served in trendy places and the prices hurt, it can seem like something of a pose.
Let’s think, instead, of Footscray soul food, western suburbs soul food as a bowl of pho.
Or a WeFo biryani or dosa.
Or a couple of plates of cheap, delicious Somalian food at Somali Star.