The rice is great, of course

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Somali Dish, 264 Racecourse Road.

When it comes time – in about a week or so – to collate the now traditional round-up of this year’s CTS highlights, there’s no doubt the Somalian food of Racecourse Road will be right at the top of the list.

It has given CTS – including Bennie and myself and various friends along the way – a lot of pleasure.

And now it seems this fabulous community of restaurants is on the cusp of richly deserved recognition beyond the local neighbourhood and even the inner west, with a Melbourne Food & Wine Festival scheduled for New Somali Kitchen.

In the meantime, what could be better in terms of building on the Somalian buzz than a new eatery?

Nothing at all.

So Bennie and I are only too happy to step into the latest arrival, Somali Dish.

It’s run by another husband-and-wife team, Ahmed Qahira and Sadia H Abdi, and is situated down towards the Quiet Man end of the strip.

I enjoy talking with Ahmed, whose pre-restaurant life seems to have been largely involved with community service of various types.

And he seems to enjoy our enthusiasm for and interest in the food being laid on here.

 

 

And terrific it is, too.

This classic federation-style platter costs us a grand total of $13 each and we love it to bits.

The rice is brilliant in the Somalian way, while the pasta sauce is even drier the usual with crumbly (but lovely) meat.

A super jumble of peas, carrots, onion and capsicum is abetted by fine salad.

And the lamb is all yummy and comes from the bones very easily.

We’re even served a couple of those sponge-like Somalian falafels.

This crew is just getting started, really, and in time the fare here will hopefully mirror the photos adorning the frontage, which portray – beyond our rice offerings – a range of snacky things and even lasagne.

 

 

CTS v Uber: And the winner is …

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Ethiopian feast from Ras Dashen.

 

As is clear from even the most cursory look at the CTS archives, we much prefer hitting the road and eating out to eating in, cooking or having food delivered.

We have such a mind-boggling treasury of great food within short journey confines, the food is ALWAYS better straight from kitchen to table – and we get, often, to meet the people who make it.

Before the advent of Uber and the somewhat earlier whizz-bang delivery apps, we did sometimes indulge in home delivery.

Pizzas from Motorino, for instance.

But truth be told, though pizzas seem to have been pretty much a foundation food when it comes to home-delivered food, we found the process really did affect the quality.

But now there’s Uber – and like many people we know, we are occasionally using it.

(The impression I get is that some are using it way more than occasionally!)

What is the attraction, over and beyond the other delivery apps?

The app, of course, is very slick and the photos gorgeous.

But most important, I think, is the geographically restricted catchment for any given address.

Obviously, this diminishes Uber for some who lack coverage.

But for us and many others, we must choose relatively local – and that’s a fine thing.

Obviously, there are broader issues involved with Uber and the like.

But on a micro, more local level, it works.

We even have a good CTS pal who drives/delivers for them who has suggested I do likewise.

As is well known, Uber takes a fair old whack from the eateries, but as the above linked story also illustrates there are advantages for them – most importantly, perhaps, the non-necessity to hire drivers themselves.

And often, customers demand it.

We have worked at finding what works for us – what is affordable, what we actually want to eat, what mirrors as closely as possible a restaurant experience once the food is plated.

For starters, we just won’t be doing fish and chips (despite some happy experiences with Dough! in Newport) or hamburgers.

Just not good travel potential going on there.

And we’ve found, in terms of Indian food, the likes of dosas and pooris are soggy dead losses.

By contrast, we’ve found biryanis to be a winner.

We’ve had chicken biryani from Sankranti, Dosa Corner and Spicy Chef – and they’ve all been good and affordable.

We’ve had some fine Vietnamese from Phu Vinh in Footscray.

The broken rice with pork chop, shredded pork, fried egg, meatloaf and pickles was truly spectacular.

But THE best we’ve found is Ethiopian.

So far, only two Ethiopian eateries service our area – Ras Dashen and Abesha.

We’ve ordered beyaynetu veg combos from both and enjoyed them, a key being that the injera is already moist and kinda soggy so the delivery process simply can’t do bad.

But in each case, the lentils (two kinds) and the familiar Ethiopian veg of carrots, spuds and beetroot have been delivered in the same container.

This is no biggie, really, as the dishes soon merge served on a platter.

 

 

However, last night I twigged that, with Ras Dashen at least, there is another way – the meat mains can be customised.

So for our Tuesday night dinner we had lamb tibs well done ($13), one extra piece of injera ($1), a small serve of both lentils ($3 – bargain!) and khey whot (spicy beef stew, $6) and side salad ($3.50).

Initially, we thought we may have over-ordered and not got enough injera.

We were wrong on both counts.

What a magnificent feast it was!

And at $31.50 (including $5 delivery), very little different from what we would’ve paid had we got in the car!

 

Chicken biryani from Spicy Chef.

House of Delicious

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House of Mandi, 326 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9077 3963

Eating at Somalian restaurants involves a similar dynamic to chowing down at, say, the Vietnamese eateries of Footscray or St Albans.

Many places have similar – even identical – menus.

But within those parameters, there can be wonderful worlds of variation and subtle differences.

 

 

For instance, the complementary soup at House of Mandi enjoyed at the first of two CTS visits is quite different from those offered elsewhere on Racecourse Road.

Instead of a mostly clear and tangy lamb broth, here is served a slightly thicker brew, stuffed with not just the expected carrot but also peas and corn, and seasoned – I’m guessing – with a good curry powder.

Different – but just as good.

 

 

House of Mandi has been running for about a year and is under the guiding hand of two husband-and-wife teams – Abdirahman Abdi and Fatuma Yussuf (above), and Yusuf Rabi and Amina Sirat.

The plain facade (see photo at bottom of story) belies the rather nicely elegant interior and friendly vibe inside.

 

 

Those subtle differences come to the fore with this marvellous meal in the “federation” style.

The name is a holdover from colonial days and, in the food sense, means the combination of both pasta and rice.

Here, the rice is laced through with carrot strands and studded with sultanas and whole chick peas.

The basto is cooked in a typically post-al dente fashion and served with a dryish tomato sauce with some minced meat on board.

The lamb shank looks rather unlovely, but who cares when the meat is so tasty and succulent?

Spiced yogurt and a fiery green chilli sauce are served on the side.

Lamb shanks, of course, long ago left the realms of cheap cuts and quite often, in other places and contexts, can be quite expensive these days.

So that makes this shank offering an outright bargain at $15.

 

 

For the subsequent CTS House of Mandi outing, this time with the ever excellent company of Nat Stockley, the soup is just a good – but this time comes with noodles.

 

 

We both opt for the non-shank lamb-on-the-bone in federation style, Nat with just mandi rice, me with mandi rice and pasta.

Mandi, I’m told, is a Yemeni word meaning juice that in the rice context refers to the meat being placed on the rice as it cooks and the juices seeping down and through.

Truth be told, there’s little evidence of that here – but the vibrant yellow rice is still Somalian wonderful, with subtle perfuming.

How wonderful is Somalian food when rice can be served in two such different yet equally toothsome ways?

This sort of lamb is very familiar to CTS, but I’m never sure quite what precise nature it is going display.

Here it is well cooked, some fall apart tender, some not-so-much, but all displaying yumminess of a high order.

There’s even a couple of ribs in there.

Following in the footsteps of shanks, lamb ribs have themselves become trendy in some quarters and, thus, correspondingly expensive.

So, once again (familiar refrain), our meals are sooper dooper bargains at $15.

There’s pan-fried veg under that meat to help liven our meals up even more, along with the familiar yogurt/chilli sauces and a good salad.

(There’s no photograph of the latter – they all turned out blurry; bad food blogger!)

 

A Somalian wonder

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#Somali Eats, 333 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9042 6682

The latest Somalian eatery to grace Racecourse Road is fabulous.

Husband-and-wife team Abdi Mohamed and Amran Sean have crafted a thoroughly gorgeous cafe-style restaurant, with heaps of lovely wood and exposed brick.

The welcome is just as cheerful and welcoming as the surrounds.

All of which would count, perhaps, for very little if the food didn’t delight as equally.

It does.

It’s fully soulful Somalian tucker, beautifully cooked and at very, very low prices.

 

The CTS lads are pumped for Somalian lunch.

 

Bennie, Nat and I revel in a superb Saturday lunch.

The #Somali Eats menu (see below) offers a lot more variety than most of its neighbours.

Gosh, there’s even a hamburger!

And there’s a handful of house-made desserts.

But I quickly ascertain that two key elements of Somalian food are on offer – the bananas served with main dishes and the soup.

They are.

Our excitement levels soar.

 

 

The soup is a very fine variation on a familiar theme – almost no vegetable matter of any kind here; just tangy, awesome broth.

(The fiery green chilli sauce is served at every stage of our meal, but we use it only on our rice.)

 

 

Despite the depth of the menu, the truth is – going by what we witness during our lunch visit – about 90 per cent of #Somali Eats’ customers order the same thing.

That being the standard meat ‘n’ rice plate.

It’s pretty much to Somalians what pho is to the Vietnamese.

So that’s what Nat and I do, too, choosing the lamb option.

It comes in $10 and $13 versions.

Ours, of the bigger kind, are perfect in every way.

Here be perfect, epic Somalian rice, seasoned with cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg, with currants and slices of fried onion, carrot and capsicum threaded through.

The plentiful meat, nicely browned, sums the art of Somalian cooking – the elevation of cheaper cuts into something akin to high art that is nevertheless earthy, simple and delicious.

Who needs lamb cutlets?

The salady bits are better – crunchier and fresher – than they appear to be at first glance.

 

 

Bennie opts for a $13 serving of basto, the pasta equivalent.

He digs it plenty and cleans his plate with gusto.

I note that the tomato sauce is a lot wetter than we’ve routinely had elsewhere in this neighbourhood.

 

 

We’d started with a serve of bajeyo (four for $3).

Described as falafel, these are very different from the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare of the same name.

Made from ground back-eyed peas, these – with their spongy texture – are more like the vadas of South India.

Still, deep-fried with skill, they a very nice.

We’ve arrived very much not in freeloading food blogger mode – not that we ever are.

So when Amran extends to us the previous day’s offer – “free lunch” to celebrate the joint’s opening day – it is unexpected.

We accept this gracious offer with thanks – but only with the understanding this non-payment will be the last of its kind.

At these prices, why wouldn’t we want to pay?

From the perspective of the usual CTS criteria, #Somali Eats could be described as the perfect restaurant.

 

Memorable moments with Mietta’s mafia

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Amy, Gifta and Mietta.

 

Selam Authentic African Restaurant & Bar, 127 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 8383 2560
Small French Bar, 154 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 8479

A few years ago, Mietta Gibson began what has become a family tradition.

Each year, as Christmas approaches, she takes the sisterhood portion of her family out on a surprise adventure.

One year it was a Middle Eastern cooking class, another it was gift-wrapping for a charity.

And on another occasion, the whole crew attended a filming session of The Project.

This year, she began plotting and scheming many months ago, with no firm ideas in mind other than “western suburbs” and “food”.

Mietta, you see, lives on the Mornington Peninsula, her entire family lives in the eastern suburbs and she was keen to expose them to some different aspects and perspectives of Melbourne.

She was not having much joy in terms of online research – until she stumbled upon Consider The Sauce.

(Frankly, given our substantial online footprint, I’m surprised it took her so long!)

Anyway, in mid-October I received an email with the header “Seeking your help”.

A few emails back and forth, and then we were happily chatting on the phone.

And just like that (sound of fingers snapping), the deal was done – Team Consider The Sauce would proudly show these gals our backyard and we’d all have an absolute blast!

And so it turned out …

 

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As Mietta and her crew exit Footscray station, she has no trouble picking me out of the crowd; we meet up and make the whole round of introductions.

With her are her sisters Eliza and Natalie, her niece Matisse, her mum-in-law Kate and – all the way from France – her friend Iris.

What a happy, garrulous crew they are!

At this early point in our evening, no one involved except Mietta and myself have any idea about what is in store – the happy gasps and grins as our gameplan is explained to them are gratifying!

Then we’re off – first stop Littlefoot, Bennie and I explaining the familiar streets and places and faces as we go.

 

 

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After “looseners” all round, we pretty much retrace our steps to Selam on Nicholson Street.

There we enjoy a truly fabulous Ethiopian meal.

Nothing edgy or unexpected, mind you – it’s simply beautifully cooked and presented Ethiopian tucker.

Lentils three different ways; terrific salad; cabbage and excellent greens (silverbeet, I think).

And in the centre of our two platters is the dry derek tibs of pan-friend lamb pieces – so good!

Best of all, though, and by general acclaim, is the lamb soup – which I foolishly forget to photograph.

This zingy lamb broth – a bit like an Ethiopian version of the standard Somalian offerings at such places as Deli Afro – is a sensation, each of our bowls liberally studded with wonderful bone-in lamb meat.

 

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Mietta and her friends – for whom the western suburbs, Footscray AND Ethiopian food are all vivid new experiences – take to the Selam fare and non-cutlery eating with gusto and delight.

Truth be told, I chose Selam for our outing pretty much on a whim and because I liked the look of the place.

But chef/proprietor Amy has done us proud and the way she and daughter Gifti have looked after us has been superb.

 

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The cost? Including all that terrific food, some wine, a few beers and sundry soft drinks – just under $20 per head.

Amazing.

But we’re not done yet … dessert is on the menu.

Actually, Footscray at 9pm on a week night is not particularly auspicious for dessert.

But before our evening began, I’d worded up Stefan at Small French Bar that we might descend upon his establishment later in the evening.

 

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It’s a bustling, cheerful scene that greets us as we enter.

It’s crowded, but room is found for us.

 

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Naturally, we ignore the savoury aspects of the menu.

We ignore, too, the sorbet option.

What we do order is three portions apiece of the other three desserts …

 

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… fondant au chocolat …

 

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… creme brulee …

 

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… and profiteroles.

Gosh, they’re beaut – and we’ve ordered just the right amount for us all to have a good taste of each dish.

There is much happy sighing and clinking of spoons on crockery.

 

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For Iris, who has been away from France for two months, this is all a profound treat.

She says the place even smells French!

What a truly memorable evening we’ve enjoyed.

There was something about the nutty randomness of Mietta’s original email approach to us that appealed enormously to CTS.

And that hunch has been vindicated.

We hope to see these folks over our way again!

 

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Flemington soul food

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Deli Afro Restaurant, 331 Racecourse Road, Kensington.   Phone: 9994 7229

The Racecourse Road strip – already happily packed with a plethora of food choices – is these days home to seven African eateries.

That’s right – seven.

But Consider The Sauce aside, you won’t be seeing this celebrated elsewhere.

This is for the simple reason that, with a couple of exceptions, these mostly Somalian cafes lack – sometimes rather spectacularly – the sort of photogenic vibe and high degree of chic and/or hipster ambience that would make them of interest to the greater part of Melbourne’s foodie media.

Ranging from the metro newspapers through to the likes of Broadsheet and Timeout through to most of our city’s bloggers, that a place being covered has some sort of “look” seems as important – and often even more important – than terrific food made by beautiful people.

 

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Look, CTS is not at all averse to eating and dining in pleasant, attractive, sexy surrounds.

But that comes a poor third in our world when compared with that sort of food and those sorts of people.

As it is, Deli Afro is rather more restaurant-like than some of its near neighbours.

Over several visits now, I have been welcomed, had food questions happily answered and generally had an all-round great time.

And the food is tremendous and very cheap.

No matter what you order here (see menu below), you will be served soup – one of the benchmarks of such places.

 

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The Deli Afro version is a veritable nectar of the gods.

Unlike most, this has no vegetable pieces or strands of stock meat – it’s simply a lip-smackingly awesome, tangy, lemony, spicy broth.

The other benchmark, for me, of such fine cafes is the rice.

The rice that comes with my lamb ($15, top photo) is likewise perfect.

Every grain glistens, with just the right amount of diced veg, onion and sultanas included.

With this kind of cooked-in-stock rice, one word automatically comes to my mind – inhale.

The generous serve of lamb is very good, too, and I continue to be wowed how north-east African cooks do so much, albeit very simply, with humble barbecue chops.

I am also provided a side plate of greens and stewed, finely diced beef, along with a zippy chilli sauce.

The overcooked greens are the sort of thing I reckon warrants comparison with the side dishes associated with the “soul food” of the US. 

 

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On another visit to Deli Afro, it is CTS pal Marnes who goes the meat-and-rice route while I happily explore another aspect of Somalian food – pasta.

These noodles are so much fun and beaut to eat, especially with liberal dosings of the chilli condiment.

There’s minced beef in there, but it is a very dry dish – it’s like a dry, jumbly bolognese.

 

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I normally steer away from fish in your more humble-but-friendly ethnic cafes, fearing a serve of bony and/or trashy fish such as tilapia or basa.

At Deli Afro, by contrast, I get a handsome chunk of salmon – how about that, and also at $15 with the pasta?

It looks like it’s been blackened in the New Orelans tradition, but – no – it is as simply cooked as our lamb.

It is way overcooked by the norms most of us associate with this fish, but not ruinously so.

I enjoy it a lot.

Our Friday night dinner gets the full Somalian treatment through provision of a banana each to eat with our meal and then milky chai-style tea spiced with ginger and other spices.

 

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Footscray soul food

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Oh no, these are bigger and better by quite some margin …

 

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… 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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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