Two amazing iso meals

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House of Mandi, 326 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9077 3963
Latin Foods & Wines, 809 Ballarat Road, Deer Park. Phone: 8358 5503

A substantial desire for Somalian food is upon us.

But instead of recourse to an icky app, I’m happy to head out on a Friday night to Flemington.

Discovering as I do so, and as I’m sure many others are, that driving logistics and stress is much lessened in current circumstances.

House of Mandi looks like just about every other eating places these days – the place is in a state of friendly disarray, with tables pushed back to the walls.

But it’s open!

I order, get our food and am back in Yarraville in what seems like no time.

Just what sort of meal we’re getting remains a mystery until we open the polystyrene boxes on the kitchen counter.

 

 

Gosh – it’s all brilliant.

And then some.

There’s no soup involved, which is not unexpected as this takeaway.

The rest is sublime.

Rice – studded with cardamom and cloves.

But this has depth of smoky flavour that we have never before encountered in countless Somalian meals.

Bennie has no qualms about calling it: “This is the best rice I’ve ever had!”

Spiced yogurt and green chilli sauce – plenty of both.

Our lamb shanks are tender, tasty and perfect in every way.

We’ve paid $15 for this amazing meal.

 

 

The next day is as bleak a Saturday as can be imagined.

Because of the rain and chill, I have something of a plan that involves grabbing empanadas and other supplies at Latin Foods & Wines and then whizzing home on the ring road to enjoy our lunch in warmth and comfort.

But Bennie has other ideas – he definitely wants to wrap his choppers around our fave Latin Foods & Wines sandwich, the chacarero.

So far as I can recall, we’ve never eaten a meal while sitting in our car; the idea has no appeal.

But I reluctantly let him have his way – and it turns out to be a most excellent call.

We get what I strongly suspect is an iso deal – so my advice would be get it while you can.

Chacarero, top-notch chips that are hot and crisp and a can of soft drink – all for $10.

Our sandwiches?

Wonderful, with their squeaky green beans and sliced beef that is of such high quality that it defies the gnawing aspect that usually leads to regular steak sandwiches disintegrating.

We enjoy our lunches yet never spill a drop of food juice on ourselves or the car.

Maybe I should re-adjust my attitudes to this kind of eat-in meal?

Happiness delivered

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Eleni’s Kitchen + Bar, 28 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9943 4233
Safari Restaurant, 159 Union Road, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 7175

Once these crazy times have abated, perhaps one of the lasting legacies will be a determination by many restaurants to continue taking care of their own home deliveries, leaving the icky apps out in the cold.

Wouldn’t that be great?

We have watched online as small businesses across the west have re-imagined their operations with passion and ingenuity – it’s been awesome to observe!

We are adhering pretty much to the “stay in your village” ethos, but even in and around Yarraville there is plenty from which to choose – and we plan on doing so about once a week in the coming months.

First up, a special Saturday night treat, is Eleni’s!

And because it’s a treat on the heels of a week of excellent home-cooking, we go all in and order the $63 meat deal for two. The toasted pita bread costs us an extra $2.

It’s all terrific, superb – and much more voluminous than the above photo indicates.

What we get: Lamb and chicken gyros, loukanika (sausage), lamb cutlets, Greek rissoles, pork kalamakia (skewer), tzatziki and salad.

The meat is cooked dead right and we love the different flavours and seasonings.

Hot? No. It’s warm – and that’s fine by us.

If we get around to Eleni’s again in the coming months, we’ll likely opt for one or more of the home-style dishes such as gemista, moussaka or pastitso.

Check out Eleni’s takeaway/delivery menu here.

 

 

When it comes to our meal from Safari, we do succumb to the use of a delivery app.

Safari was our Somalian hot spot several years before we became fully entranced with the Somalian eateries of Flemington.

Because of “stay in your village”, we have no idea how most of the Racecourse Road places are faring – or even if they’re open.

Though we note with happiness that #SomaliEats IS now up and running, offering pick-up and delivery – though I doubt that delivery option would stretch as far as Yarraville!

But such is our desire for a taste of Somalia, that we do the Door Dash thing with Safari – and it is absolutely outstanding!

We both opt for the lamb federation meal – fragrant, cardamom-studded rice AND pasta, heaps of tender lamb on the bone, some salad and veg.

No soup, but that’s no biggie; one banana between the two of us and tubs of chilli sauce and “Safarinaise”.

Really, this was just as good as having a Somalian feed in a restaurant, though without the vibe and colour!

The cost?

A mere $18 each.

A Footscray legend returns

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Cafe d’Afrique, 137 Nicholson Street, Footscray

Cafe d’Afrique is renowned for the being the first African coffee shop in Footscray.

Proprietor Faisel Pkesy reckons it’s also the first African business of any kind in this neighbourhood – and who am I to argue?

Keen Footscray watchers will know that Cafe d’Afrique was closed for what seemed like ages.

But – oh, joy! – Faisel and his wonderful enterprise are back.

There’s new artwork on show, but the welcome and the food remain the same.

Faisel says he may introduce a menu once things settle down a bit.

But, heck, we like the no-menu set-up.

We’re not the only ones who wander in here and say: “What’s on?”

 

 

For Bennie and I, that means a gloriously rich lamb key wot – that terrific gravy is made without tomatoes.

Bennie has his with rice.

 

 

I have mine with injera.

There are some bones in the lamb, but the meat is fall-apart tender and delicious.

We each also get a serve of an equally scrumptious okra stew, also with lamb.

 

 

As well, we  are provided a side bowl of a beaut lentil stew and …

 

 

… matching crisp, fresh salads.

The price of our lunches is $15 apiece – that seems to be the going rate for everything here, no matter what choices or configuration you go with.

The coffee, of course, is excellent.

And that costs $3.

Pure Sunshine

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Ghion Restaurant & Cafe, 12 City Place, Sunshine. Phone: 0423 362 995

There’s no doubt the old Sunshine station – and its gloomy, even spooky tunnel/underpass through to City Place – deserved and needed to be replaced.

But given the new station edifice involves a much less direct and stair-heavy route, I wondered what impact the new station arrangements would have on City Place and the surrounding businesses and neighbourhood.

Surely, the curious would be much less inclined to venture to “the other side of the tracks” from Sunshine central and its much more numerous shops and eateries?

Well, yes – I guess so.

But something rather nice appears to be happening in the face of this enforced “separation”.

You see, it’s now possible to consider that City Place and the adjacent Sun Crescent constitute an entirely different neighbourhood.

Or even a different suburb – one with its own pace, space and vibe.

It’s very laid back, with none of the hustle and bustle of Sunshine proper.

I’d not go so far as to suggest this neighbourhood is prospering or constantly buzzing, but it does seem to be getting on with doing its own thing.

It’s tempting to describe the overall vibe as African, but that would be misleading.

There’s hairdressers/barbers, a cafe, groceries and an arts space.

The fine and long-term Chinese eatery Dragon Express remains in place, while around the corner on Sun Crescent is the utterly fabulous Panjali Banana Leaf Malaysian Restaurant, as well as a kebab shop, an Ethiopian place and a Sri Lankan outlet.

Back on City Place, Ghion is doing really good Ethiopian tucker and has become a regular haunt for those seeking a lightish casual lunch in a tranquil, relaxing setting.

I’m guessing it’s also on the ball come dinnertime.

The classic vegetarian combo yetsom beyaynetu is awesome here – as good as any I’ve tried.

Lentils/pulses three different ways; the familiar carrot/potato, beetroot and greens; sprightly salad – all beautifully cooked and presented, all in just the right quantities for a wonderfully balanced meal.

This winning offering costs a supremely cheap $12.

But if you visit Ghion on Wednesday – day or night – it’ll cost you a mere $10.

How good is that?

Among the various meat dishes, lega tibs ($13) is lovely.

It’s a tomato-based, zingy concoction with good lamb chunks and the onion providing nice crunch through being just the right side al dente.

Wait times at Ghion are spot on – long enough to bespeak much care in the kitchen, short enough to ward off hungry impatience.

Meal of the week No.48: Somali Star

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It’s always a nifty pleasure to visit the Footscray Hub arcade – a key component of what makes Footscray central such a cracking place to be.

But today we have another motive.

We’d heard that Somali Star was for sale – or perhaps even under new management?

So we’re here to find out what the go is.

Well, it turns out all is much the same.

The lovely Johara is still running the joint.

She tells me she was considering selling up for a while, but has since dug in for the long haul.

That means Somali Star remains a happy place that is very popular with the locals, especially those seeking the world famous sambusas.

For eating in, there is an appealing mix of Somalian and Ethiopian fare.

 

 

There being no pasta immediately on hand, Bennie is thwarted in his ambition to have such like with “beef curry”.

So he joins me in having a simple meal of “tips” with injera ($15).

The “tips” are wetter, and more tomato-based, than we normally get in this neighbourhood, but we still enjoy our lunches very much.

Somali Star is on Uber, though last orders are taken at 6.30pm when the arcade closes.

 

Ethiopian in upper Barkly

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GeBeta Cafe and Restaurant, 1/578 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 0432 523 921

The word GeBeta, Tamrat Achamyeleh tells us, is about Ethiopian food.

Not just the platters on which the stews and pan-fried goodies are served, nor the injera with which they are accompanied or the gathered hungry folks.

Nay, it is all of the above – a sort of “let’s all eat together” statement of purpose.

We’re totally down with that, especially when it comes to trying a brand new Ethiopian eatery in West Footscray.

That’s right – West Foostcray, rather than the more typically Ethio/African precincts of the singularly named Footscray near the other end of Barkly Street.

After sampling the GeBeta food, we reckon the locals around here will love supporting this colourful addition to their eating palette, one that is otherwise tilted towards Indian food – though not quite as much as is sometimes claimed.

GeBeta is being run by Tamrat Achamyeleh and Tiruzer Ahunem, whose food we enjoyed on many occasions at Ras Dashen on Nicholson Street.

We admire their smarts in moving up the road where there is much less competition of the Ethiopian variety.

None, actually.

The menu – see it at the place’s website here – features a line-up of reliable Ethiopian regulars.

We are in a meaty mood so share a lovely spread of doro w’et – “the national dish of Ethiopia” – and kh’ey tibs at $15 each.

The doro w’et is rich, oily and all delicious, its single chicken drumstick and hard-boiled egg quite sufficient in terms of heft.

The kh’ey tibs is light on the menu-nominated “berbere infused curry”, but is still very good, the just-cooked onions adding welcome crunch and texture.

All is abetted by a nice salad studded with green chilli slices.

GeBeta serves injera made with teff at the weekends, but the regular hybrid version at other times.

Tamrat tells us they hope in the future to have on the menu the beef bone soup we loved at their Footscray establishment.

At the moment, the restaurant is a cash-only proposition.

Still fab

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Mama’s Cuisine, 331 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0399 947 229

One of our old faves has undergone a revamp and been bestowed with a new name – what was Afro Deli is now Mama’s Cuisine, and looking rather spiffy with new furniture and fittings.

We figure it’s time for a re-visit – and, heck, it’s been a month or so we’ve had a good Somalian feed.

The menu (see below) features our expected favourites – and a few intriguing items for us to try on another visit.

A breakfast dish of shakshouka eggs, for instance – made in a tomato sauce.

Or mandazi – Somalian doughnuts.

The lamb broth soup (above) is superb.

 

 

Unfortunately, the mighty sounding “Mama’s Special” of fried goat shoulder with herbs and served with vegetables and rice ($17) is not quite ready for us …

So I go for my trusty lamb on the bone, federation style with rice and pasta ($15).

All is delicious, and there’s plenty of charred/fried onion, capsicum and carrot to go with the tender meat.

 

 

Bennie, too, sticks to routine by getting pasta only. He likes it, but does prefer the more tomato-ey versions to be had elsewhere.

For him, and for the same price, the carnivore aspect is covered by on-the-bone camel meat – and it, too, is tender and beaut.

All that and we’re served complementary mango smoothies as well.

Mama’s Cuisine is right up there with the other great Somalian joints on this strip.

Will CTS ever stop banging on about the Somalian establishments of Flemington?

No.

 

 

Meal of the week No.40: Jazeera Cafe

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We’ve been aware of Jazeera Cafe (16 Paisley Street, Footscray) for a long time, but simply haven’t gotten around to visiting until now.

No doubt because we’ve established such a happy groove in going to Racecourse Road, Flemington, when we desire Somalian food.

Which is often.

However, recently CTS friend Juz has given Jazeera a couple of goes – and his feedback has been heartening.

So here we are.

I suspect there may be a menu available here … but our ordering is reduced to admirable, happy simplicity.

“Can we get some dinner here tonight?”

“What sort of food do you want?”

“Somalian food!”

“OK!”

And with that – and a big smile – our server disappears into the kitchen.

That’s fine by us.

We understand that on a low-key week night, we’re going to get what’s actually in the kitchen – or nothing at all.

As it turns, what we are provided is what we would’ve ordered anyway – soup, lamb, rice.

 

 

The soup is thicker than we’ve become used to elsewhere – more like a cream soup or a chowder.

It’s fine, but doesn’t have the zesty, lemony tang we love so much.

 

 

Our rice platter is most excellent.

It could be described as “lamb three ways” – there’s a stew, a sort-of Somalian bolognese atop the spaghetti and a big, meaty piece of braised/baked sheep meat.

Bennie has already eaten elsewhere this night, so our $15 meal does fine for both of us.

And as ever, it’s the fabulous, fragrant rice that crowns our dining as top notch.

 

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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mietta6

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 …

 

mietta1

 

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.

 

 

mietta2

 

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

10 Comments

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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

91 Comments

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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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Ethiopian salmon

8 Comments

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Betty’s Ethiopian Restaurant & Cafe, 819 Ballarat Road, Deer Park. Phone: 9363 0857

Consider The Sauce is not used to seeing fish on the menu’s of Ethiopian eateries.

And certainly, spying salmon kitfo ($17) on the menu at betty’s in Deer Park is a first.

It’s a beguiling dish.

The flavour of the chopped salmon is subtle but very present.

The fish dances atop of bed of near-creamed spinach and a base of ricotta and yogurt.

And there’s quite a high level heat provided by, according to the menu (see below), green chilli.

It’s beaut and, naturally, one of the more unusual dishes on the Betty menu.

 

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On a visit earlier than my mid-week fishy lunch, Bennie and I tried the beyaynetu vegetarian combo ($15 per person).

It’s very good.

It has lentils three ways, the familiar mix of spud and beetroot, and cabbage/carrotconcoctions that display a bit more crunch and texture than is often the cooked-down case in the other Ethiopian places.

The beyaynetu is accompanied by a typically high-quality simple salad full of zing and crunch.

Betty’s is unusual in that it one of the very few Melbourne Ethiopian restaurants that makes its own injera – in this case with a mix of barley flour and Australian-grown teff.

 

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Before opening their new cafe/eatery, Betty Diemsse and her husband, Beruk, ran a grocery store at the same premises alongside a small business importing Ethiopian spices and the like.

The Derrimut couple tell me that since opening recently they’ve welcomed into their restaurant all sorts of locals – Sudanese, Somalian, Eritrean; Aussies of many kinds, in truth.

Betty’s joins good Turkish and Vietnamese places, and the popular Chef Lagenda, on the the Deer Park commercial/eats strip.

With the looming arrival of Latin Food & Wines, which is moving from its long-time base at Berkshire Road in Sunshine, it could be said things are looking up food-wise in Deer Park.

Latin Food & Wines will be taking over the big premises that formerly housed Blue Cow Deli.

Their sensational sandwiches and empanadas will be joined by a range of more substantial South American dishes, an expanded line of groceries and a bottle shop.

Excitement!

 

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New jewel for Racecourse Road

9 Comments

somali10

 

New Somali Kitchen, 284 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 8589 7631

There are a handful of African establishments on Racecourse Road, one of our favourite food destinations.

But mostly they seem content to keep themselves to themselves and their communities.

New Somali Kitchen – located in what for many years the strip’s charcoal chicken stalwart and, more recently, a short-lived burger joint – presents a more welcoming mien.

It’s done out in white tiles and dark wood and looks a treat.

Oddly enough, on my two visits so far, my fellow customers have been overwhelmingly from the Somali community!

I’ve found the service to be prompt and good.

The menu (see below) is admirably tight and very affordably priced.

 

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A plate of warm salad ($13) I see being scooted off to another table inspires me to order likewise.

Initially, I am taken aback that mine is not drizzled atop with bright, white yogurt dressing and the advertised pine nuts seem in very short supply.

But this is still very nice – the dressing is mixed throughout; there’s a heap of chopped, crunchy, roasted almonds; and the many leaves are fresh as.

The lamb – in the form of a many charred chunks – is a delight.

It’s tender and close to being free of gristle or bone.

 

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But the main game in mains at New Somali Kitchen – and the dish I’m guessing is ordered by at least half the clientele – is the NSK Classic ($10, $13).

This is the cheaper version – and a very good meal it iso.

The cooked-in-stock rice is marvellous and the fiery green chilli sauce is a piquant flavour hit.

The lamb is good – a bit on the gnarly side but nothing that anyone familiar with this kind of food is going to find unusual or unusually challenging.

Sadly, the accompanying lamb broth is unavailable for me this time around.

 

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New Somali Kitchen sports a nifty line-up of very cheap and wonderful sides such as sambusa, meatballs and these gorgeous and tasty bajeya – an African version of the eternal falafel ($4 for three pieces) made with black eye peas.

 

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Unlike many African eateries, New Somali Kitchen boasts a short list of house-made desserts – and they’re all good and well priced.

This cinnamon and cardamom cake ($4) is moister than it appears may be the case and anointed with yogurt.

 

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The “mango & yogurt dessert” and “Somali Affogato” (both $5) are equally enjoyable.

See Nat Stockley’s review here.

 

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Ethiopian … in Fitzroy?

3 Comments
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Saba’s Ethiopian Restaurant, 328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 8589 0442

Of the foodie friends we break bread with, Marketa and Nick are two lovely folks whom we see too little of.

So I am only to happy to agree to a proposal to join them at a new Ethiopian eatery … in Fiztroy.

Turns out that Marketa and the Saba after whom the restaurant is named know each other from another place – a gym!

For Marketa, this will a first try of Ethiopian tucker; not so for Nick, though his single encounter is just a fading memory.

 

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But even for me, veteran of so much western suburbs Ethiopian food, there will be something new.

As recounted in this story about Lemat Injera Bakery, for most of the Ethiopian community’s time in Australia, the grain from which injera is made – teff – was not allowed to be imported.

So the injera makers – as cultures have done through the ages – experimented and adapted, using a mix of grains, until they created something like, well, injera.

Those import restrictions have been lifted now but as far as I know this will be my first ever encounter with teff injera.

I arrive early so have time to talk with Saba and her staff about injera and Ethopian food in Melbourne.

 

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The eatery – smack dab in the middle of Brunswick Street’s hipster heaven – is bright and light and the staff do a fine job.

As we’re enjoying our meal, people are being turned away.

Seems like Saba’s is going to fit right in in Fitzroy!

But Fitzroy isn’t Footscray so I have been bracing myself for prices way above what I’d pay for similar food much closer to home.

So, upon perusal of the menu (see below), I am pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the prices are above what we all pay on Nicholson Street or thereabouts – but not ridiculously so.

I’m happy to be in the house and catching up with my friends.

 

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Other differences between Saba’s and the western suburbs Ethiopian eateries are the names of the dishes.

I don’t get around to asking Saba why this is so – but can tell, reading between the lines of the dish descriptions, that I am going to be eating in familiar territory.

Saba places a restraining hand on our eagerness in terms of ordering too much.

So what we end up with is a splendid Ethiopian meal of one meat dish, one pulse offering and two vegetable dishes.

 

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It’s all very good, including the carrots-cabbage-spuds of dinish ($16) and the “side dish” beetroot, here called key sir ($12).

Our meat selection, keyih sebhi ($23.50) is a wonderfully rich, deep red stew of lamb with just the right chilli kick.

It’s almost like an Ethiopian bolognese!

As for injera made from teff, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice much difference – maybe this injera was a bit plumper.

 

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‘Wow!’ in Tarneit

11 Comments

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Ya Salam Cafe and Restaurant, 20 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 9748 8660

The Arabic “ya salam” translates as “that’s fantastic!” or “wow!” – and that’s pretty much how I feel upon visiting and enjoying a brand new African eatery in Tarneit.

Taking the scenic route along from Laverton and along Sayers Road, what awaits me in Tarneit – what kind of operation, what kind of food – has been a mystery.

So I am delighted to discover a new and brightly appointed eatery that has been open just a few days.

It’s located on a small retail strip that looks out to the Wyndham Village shopping centre, home to a newish branch of Dosa Hut.

Ya Salam shares the Lavinia Drive space with an Indian eatery (on one side) and (on the other) what appears to be a charcoal chicken place but is in reality a full-on Lebanese place.

 

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How’s that?

Instant foodie destination!

Ya Salam proprietor Mohammed tells me business, so far generated by little more than word of mouth, has been good.

He’s finding his new project is appealing to not just the local east African community of about 300 families but also the Muslim folks and the community generally.

The heart of what he and his team are doing at Ya Salam is Somalian food but the menu (see below) also features a hefty Middle Eastern component along with dishes that display Mediterranean and even European influences – breakfast, too!

Readers can rest assured, though, that this sensible, broad-sweep approach in no way diminishes the quality of what’s being served.

 

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I am served a complementary bowl of soup to go with my main dish – it’s listed on the menu as “Yasalam soup” on the menu, so I am not sure if this is going to be part of the regular routine.

Does it look familiar?

It is!

It’s basically the same lamb broth-based concoction that is served at our beloved Safari in Ascot Vale.

This version may not be quite as tangy but it is equally rich in flavour.

 

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“Slow-cooked lamb shoulder” ($16.95) is also familiar, with its trademark and super cooked-in-stock rice.

Perhaps it may have been more visually appealing had the meat been browned off a bit.

But as with all places who cook these kinds of lamb cuts this way, I love the undeniable depth of meaty flavour.

And there’s lots of it.

 

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Moving on over to the more Middle Eastern aspects of the menu, mixed grill is a bargain at $12.90.

It comes with the same rice and salad, a “chapati” and a tub of exuberantly garlicky dip.

There’s a skewer apiece of lamb, chicken and …

 

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… lamb kofta, which is served separately as it takes a little while longer to cook.

They’re all terrific.

 

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Meal of the week No.18: Walia Ibex

3 Comments

walia23

 

A lively FB discussion – inspired by a fellow blogger’s story about a Seddon institution and concerning the pros and cons of various Footscray African eateries – has me very much in the mood for injera and the stuff that goes with it.

But I’m not in Footscray.

I’m in Sunshine.

So I very happily hit Walia Ibex (197 Hampshire Road, 9312 3090).

This is a sister enterprise to the one a few blocks away.

That one is, I’m told, dedicated entirely these days to coffee and billiards.

If you want Ethiopian food, it’s to the Hampshire Road one you should head.

And you should.

While I continue to find it surprising that AFAIK this is the sole African eatery hereabouts, based on my profoundly enjoyable lunch, it’s at least a fine thing to know it’s a good one!

 

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It’s a cosy place with an upstairs dining room.

Upon my arrival, the vapid nonsense of commercial TV is blaring forth.

Soon after, the audio is extinguished – leaving me and the other customers happily with just the familiar sounds of low-key, funky Ethiopian jazz.

The longish Walia Ibex menu has all the usual Ethiopian staples, and while I don’t check too closely, there may even be a few unusual items in there.

The standard vegetarian combo of yetesom beyayneto costs $12.

 

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But I’ve a hankering for something lighter, healthier, cheaper – so foul it is.

I know there’s folks who would consider $10 a bit too much to pay for such a humble dish.

But so good is the Walia Ibex rendition that I consider it a bargain.

The creamy beans are hot and plentiful, anointed with onion, tomato, capsicum, egg, cheese and just enough chilli to make things even more interesting.

I’m provided, by request, injera instead of bread.

It’s a magical lunch.

Sometimes, often, that’s how it goes with the simplest of dishes.

 

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