Konjo Cafe & Restaurant

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Konjo Cafe & Restaurant, 89 Irving St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 8185

It’s a passing mention of Konjo Cafe at Footscray Food Blog that has seemingly and subconsciously steered me to Irving St, despite having pleasantly meandered along many streets and alleyways since parking at the market a half an hour before.

I’m very happy to find it open for business at lunchtime on a Monday, despite the upheaval presented by the heavy-duty roadworks currently underway right outside.

I’d popped in once a few months previously, so am used to the idea a limited menu may be available – the handful of dishes jotted down on a small blackboard doesn’t phase me.

From that list I choose lamb kai wot, which is described as “spicy lamb stew simmered in berbere”.

I soon discover the blackboard choices are mere suggestions and that the full menu – see below – is available.

The menu seems to have all the usual Ethiopian bases covered, with all but one dish selling for $12 – at the end of 2012, that seems like really good value.

No matter, I’m happy with my choice – especially once my request for a little salad on the side is granted.

That turns out to be the zingy jumble of cos lettuce, tomato and green chilli slices I was hoping for.

The kai wot is only mildly spicy but the gravy is rich, quite oily/buttery and delicious; the lamb is in small pieces and plentiful.

A single piece of injera suffices, and I even leave a little of the kai wot – it’s a serve that should really be shared between two diners in tandem with a vegetable dish or salad proper.

My cool lunch matches the cool cafe vibe here – the furniture is dark wood, the tables long-legged to match the stools. There is seating of a more traditional-style in a rear room.

The service is warm and obliging. The volume of the sweet African music is just right, too.

I’m told the roadworks are as much a pain because of the dust and noise as they are for deterring customers.

Still, no doubt just like the other restaurants and businesses on this stretch of Irving St, they’ll be very happy when the work is completed.

Flat-screen TVs: No.

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Ras Dashen

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Ras Dashen, 121 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 3293

For a day off – the first of two in a row – it’s been a helluva day so far.

My nerves are rattled.

It’s taken me three goes – and three separate documents – to fill in the Working With Children Check correctly and with no messy scrawl-outs.

I’ve still got a stat dec to acquire.

As well, the world – or at least the newspaper part of it that’s such a big part of my life but may be so for not much longer – seems to be entering its End Days.

That’s common knowledge, it’s true, but it seems to be gathering momentum.

I need a blanky, some comfort food, some lunch – and the exquisite pleasure of writing about it afterwards.

Ras Dashen provides me with splendid succour.

121 Nicholson St last made an appearance in the guise of the nice but short-lived Baraka Restaurant.

Somalian food has given way to Ethiopian, with Ras Dashen – I’m told it means “mountain” – having been open about seven months.

It seems like less time than that I’ve been aware of the change, but time is flying.

There’s new furnishings and I feel right at home in the bright, cheerful ethnic cafe atmosphere.

The smiling, gentle and hospitable welcome I receive for Monday lunch is as important as the food.

The menu has many of the usual suspects – tibs, foul, “khey wot”, kitfo – but I know what I want.

I want soup.

Is there soup?

“Yes.”

“What kind is it?”

“Beef rib.”

“That’s what I want.”

I am offered a choice of bread or injera.

In the interests of maximum comfort factor, I choose the latter.

My soup ($10) arrives with one each of regular and wholemeal injera, along with a little bowl of chilli paste.

I’m often surprised that in all the coverage Melbourne’s African eateries receive there is so little mention of the soups that are available – based on our experiences, they’re certainly among the high points.

And this is an excellent one.

If you were to judge it on the vegetables – carrot, onion, celery and more – you’d be excused for thinking it not much different from a Western-style meat/vegetable broth.

But the result here is unmistakably African.

It’s there in the peppery tanginess and the random slices of fresh green chilli.

It’s there in the heady, intense and flavoursome broth that soaks up the injera so well.

My soup bowl has four bits of beef rib, with some meat sticking to them and more juicy, tender morsels doing magical stuff independently.

There’s just the right amount of meat to provide hearty fare without seeming like too much of a Monday midday carnivore.

This all makes the world seem like a much less threatening place as I go about my business.

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Walia Ibex

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Walia Ibex, 2B Clarke St, Sunshine.

It seems a little odd that the flowering of African culture and food that has occurred in the past decade or so in Footscray has not been mirrored in Sunshine or even slightly further afield St Albans.

Well, Walia Ibex – named after a threatened Ethiopian species – is making a start in Sunshine.

The place is kitted out in such a way that it could be interchangeable with any one of half a dozen African eateries in Footscray. No bad thing, that!

A lunch here about a year ago was quite nice, but more in the meat-and-rice Somalian tradition.

These days, the place is more like a proper organised restaurant, with a menu and all!

And the food is a whole lot more focussed – this is Ethiopian tucker through and through, with three different kinds of tibs, doro wot, kitfo and gored gored all featuring on the list.

All meals are a very reasonable $12.

I order the vegetarian combo – “yetesom beyaynetu” – not because it’s cheaper, it’s the same price as the rest, but because I don’t feel like a meaty meal.

The serve looks quite modestly sized but proves more than adequate for a lovely lunch. The single piece of injera is matched just right with the food in terms of proportion.

There’s lentils three ways –  a dry and crumbly mix of small brown lentils studded with slices of fresh green chilli; smoother and wetter red lentils that look like they’re cooked with tomatoes but are actually made, I’m told, with a special “Ethiopian chilli powder” (it’s very mild and unspicy); and finally a luscious and turmeric-yellow mix that looks likes it’s made with moong dal or channa dal but which is described as being made with “African beans”.

I love the way these three pulse components complement each other with contrasting colours and textures and flavours.

A highlight is the gorgeously multi-coloured mix of beautifully cooked beetroot and potato – I wish there was a whole lot more of it – while the stalwart mix of cabbage and carrot is tender and just about as lovely.

This is plain, homely food and I love it. It’s a little less oily than similar fare I’ve enjoyed elsewhere, too.

Walia Ibex already has the feel of being something of an African community hub, with lots of folks coming, going, chatting.

If I lived anywhere nearby, I’d be there on a weekly basis.

Addis Abeba

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220 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9041 2994

Our normal early-in-the-week routine is all business – work, school homework, commuting and homecooked meals.

This week we break out for a Tuesday night foray.

It’s the bitingly cold start of a nasty cold snap, so the whole exercise could be deemed silly, but happily our first port of call is open.

Addis Abeba is a relatively new kid on the block in Footrscray’s collection of Ethiopian eateries, situated on a stretch of Nicholson St known for the presence of a venerable old stager of an Indian restaurant, the Taj.

The restaurant is done out nicely in a tranquil sort of green, the walls adorned with art work, photos and posters.

We’re the only customers and naturally gravitate to the table nearest to the glowing heater.

Dad’s happy to go vego, but the boy wants meat.

It seems the days of us ordering only a salad and tibs at Ethiopian places are gone – the staff advise us that, no, that won’t be enough. I shouldn’t be surprised – Bennie’s a 10-year-old rugby player whose appetite is expanding.

We order salad ($6), beef tibs ($12) and lamb key wet (wot, also $12).

At first blush, the tibs look a little pale and pallid – there’s little by way of seasoning or gravy. But Bennie loves  ’em, especially the onion strands.

The key wot is the hit of the night – nice lamb pieces swimming in an incredibly rich and oily/buttery dark red-brown gravy with that distinctive flavour of berbere spice mix prominent. The chilli hit seems to become greater as the meal goes on, but presents no problems for us

The salad is the usual jumble of leaves, capsicum, onion, green chilli and tomato. It’s very wet with a lemony dressing, but we like it a lot.

We eat almost all that is before us, including the injera on the serving platter and the extras on the side.

On an earlier visit on my ownsome, I’d had kikil – described as “lamb stew with special sauce sauted with onion and garlic”, it was actually a typically flavoursome broth, in which was submerged a meaty lamb bone. It was delicious, though $12 seemed a little pricey for a bowl of soup. It was beaut, however, to use injera with soup – the sponge-like texture, unsurprisingly, was just right for the job.

Based on our experiences to this point, Addis Abeba presents a fairly typical Ethiopian fare very capably, if without really knocking us out. Yet.

I’m keen to return to try the non-meat combo of pulses two ways and various vegetable dishes. It’s priced at $12, $15 with salad, $26 for two and $40 for three, which seems fair and sensible.

For breakfast there are the likes of foul ($8) and scrambled eggs ($7).

All other things being equal, Addis Abeba is likely to find long-term favour with us for being slightly removed from Footscray’s African hub, hopefully easing the car-park situation.

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Lemat Injera Bakery

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157 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 006

There is much more to Ethiopian food – and the broader north African food culture that has become such integral part of western suburbs life – than injera.

But in many ways, injera is emblematic of colours, flavours and aromas that are so alluring.

So I am thrilled beyond words to be invited to witness injera being made at Lemat Bakery, in the heart of Footscray’s lovely African hub of Nicholson St.

The establishment is managed – and the injera made – by Sesen Assefa. Her genial and voluble husband prefers to stay in the background, but is happy to provide me all the information I need.

The couple met in the very early ’90s, in Sudan, and like so many endured many long years in exile and of menial jobs before opening their bakery in 2006 – just as the influx of north African diaspora into Melbourne’s west began in earnest.

In Ethiopia, injera is made with teff.

As it will soon be in Australia, restrictions on its importation apparently having been lifted or soon to be.

Given that teff is a grain of mightily ancient heritage, I reckon this can only be a good thing in a world in which the shrinking gene pool and diversity of seed stores is under threat.


In the meantime, like the Vietnamese community and others before them, the folks at Lemat have been doing just fine with what’s at hand, modifying recipes with locally available ingredients for the best, most authentic results.

That means the injera we have all been enjoying is made with a mixture of flours – maize, self-raising and wholemeal wheat, sorghum and barley.

The batter is fermented for 24 hours – no yeast or other agents are used – before being deftly poured on to hot, round platters.

In a minute or so, the injera – smooth side down, spongy side up – is ready to be equally skillfully slipped on to straw mats and placed on long tables with the rest of the day’s order.

As well the bakery produces “sweet”, unfermented injera for its Sudanese customers.

The Lemat output is split between restaurants, groceries and families.

The aroma is like that of any other bakery – but in many ways so very different. And quite intoxicating!


Out front, I delight in a half-hour conversation with Mr Lemat – a virtual crash course for me that ranges from injera and Ethiopian food in general through to Coptic Christianity, the dynamics of “facebook revolution” and the role they are playing in north Africa (including Algeria that very morning), the equally fascinating nuances and subtleties that accompany inter-actions between the various African communities in Footscray (and Melbourne in general), contemporary Ethiopia, the Sundanese separation referendum and much more.

As we are talking, the manager of Awash comes and goes with her daily order of injera, but it is no less likely that the staff of Khartoum – just a few doors up the street, and nominally a Sudanese restaurant – will drop in for injera to go with the Ethiopian dishes on their menu.

My humble thanks to the people of Lemat Injera Bakery for sharing with me their stories and their baking skills.