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.

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.

 

Another Flemo/Somalian jewel

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Sahra’s Kitchen, 303 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0390 447 337

Sahra’s Kitchen is the final regular Racecourse Road Somalian eatery to be covered by CTS.

We’ve held off for a couple of reasons.

We’ve eaten here a heap of times, but truth be told it has long seemed to operate at least partially as something of a community hub for the local Somalian community.

While we’ve always been made to feel welcome, it has presented as being a little less open and viable for members of the general public.

Plus, the last time I stepped in here, they’d run out of rice!

There’s no such problems this time around as Bennie and settle in for a mid-week dinner.

Indeed, the place had been tidied up and refreshed.

There’s cool, matching furniture and even some artwork on the walls.

We find the service prompt and cheerful.

Sahra’s Kitchen is definitely open for your business.

And there’s rice in the house!

The menu (see below) is quite long and varied, running to breakfast dishes and a tuna sandwich.

There’s even a transnational touch in the form of an injera meal.

I’m told that’s unavailable this night, so Bennie and I opt for our regular rice/pasta with meat ($15).

 

 

But first, soup – of course!

Here the lamb-based concoction is cloudy – almost like a “cream of” soup.

It’s delicious.

There’s nary a trace of meat yet the whole thing is profoundly and deeply flavoured with lamb.

 

 

Bennie’s pasta combo with lamb and …

 

 

… my rice combo with lamb are excellent, matching in every way the quality found elsewhere on this magical strip.

Bennie’s spaghetti and its tomato-based sauce is not as wet as some, nor as dry as others, and a touch more oily.

He slurps up every strand with glee.

My rice is fine but plain.

All the lamb is tender and wonderful – even the more hunka chunks.

A friend commented this week how he finds the Somalian food at one of his new faves – a Footscray place we have yet to cover – varies depending on who is manning the stoves.

Yes, well – we like that about all our favourite Somalian joints, that the food is hardly ever the same.

It varies depending not just on who is in the kitchen but also on the hour of the day and the day of the week!

In this case, we are blessed with plentiful amounts of pan-tanned veg – onion, carrot, capsicum and even some broccoli.

If not the best part of our meals, the vegetable factor is certainly the crowning glory.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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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New jewel for Racecourse Road

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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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Bulsho Cafe

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Bulsho Cafe, 303 Racecourse Road,  Kensington. Phone: 9372 3557

In this case, the food and – presumably – the clientele is Somalian.

But individual differences and quirks aside, Bulsho Cafe could be Italian.

Or Polish or Croatian or Chinese or other African or Turkish or Vietnamese.

In its own way, it epitomises what I think of as “working men’s cafes”.

Or, more accurately, community hubs, hang-out joints and coffee stops for men, whether they be working or not.

You’ll rarely see women in such places.

You’ll rarely see them blogged or on Urbanspoon, either.

If they serve food – and it’s a big if – there’ll likely be no printed menu; just a hand-scrawled list, if that.

You’re mostly required to ask.

Such places can be quite daunting, but I’ve found often enough that perseverance and friendly inquiries can lead to fine food done dirt cheap and served with a welcoming smile.

My Sunday lunchtime experience at Bulsho, right next door to Flemington Kebab House, mirrors those experiences – and I’m eventually glad I hang in there.

Upon I entering, I see just a single customer, who is eventually joined by a mate, and no staff anywhere.

I hear sounds of activity emanating from the rear of the premises, but there’s no bell or other way of alerting the staff to the presence of willing customer.

I wait a few minutes and a few minutes more before deciding to split. That’s the way it goes at these sorts of places sometimes.

But as I am in the process of departing, I actually cop an eyeful of what the solitary customer is eating.

“Gosh,” methinks. “That looks good.”

So good, in fact, that I summon up some more perseverance by directing a robust, “Hello!” to the so-far unseen staff.

I am rewarded by a smiling young chap who is only happy to help ease my lunchtime fervour.

From there the process is easy …

“I want what he’s having,” I declare, gesturing towards the other customer.

It’s lamb curry with rice ($13).

Except, it’s not a curry at all. Or not in the way it’s generally understood.

Instead, it’s a lamb pieces on the bone – mostly shank, I think – in a clear broth of the same fashion as served by Safari in Ascot Vale or Ras Dashen in Footscray.

If the soup isn’t quite of the same spicy, piquant succulence as found in those two fine establishments, it’s good enough nonetheless.

Somewhat unexpectedly, given the nature of the meal and my previous experiences with similar feeds, the meat itself is quite different from the fall-from-the-bone kind I am expecting.

The meat is pleasantly chewy, comes from the bones easily enough with just a little effort and is ace in its own way. And there’s plenty of it.

A small pot of mild curry gravy is brought to my table after the rest of my meal, lubricating things nicely.

But the monarch of my meal is the plentiful rice – done in a way I am familiar with from other Somalian eateries, but here strongly perfumed with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

Not for the first time, I have been handed a lesson – that good food in the west can sometimes require a bit more chutzpah than merely walking in, grabbing a  menu and ordering.

And I think that’s a fine thing.

I would really love to hear other food hounds’ experiences – good, bad, indifferent, puzzling, frustrating, whatever – at such places as Bulsho.

There’s plenty of them, that’s for sure.

Yet they’re a part of our cultural and food landscape that goes largely unremarked.

As for women being rarely seen in them, I reckon that’s just an entrenched tradition – one I’d like to think is not based on any religious or cultural dogmas or taboos, such is the surprised delight I’ve invariably come across whenever I’ve chosen to make the effort.

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Safari Restaurant

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Safari Restaurant, 159 Union Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 7175

It’s been far too long since we’ve sailed in the Safari – certainly at least since our early review of this fine Somalian eatery.

So long, in fact, we’re not even sure if it’ll be functioning as we remember on this Friday night with appetites inspired by some overdue winter outfitting.

The Consider The Sauce boys have been shopping and are hungry.

Happily, as we enter we discover everything is as we remember it. Indeed, the place seems busier than was the case on any of our previous visits.

The menu, however, seems to have been streamlined somewhat, but as we soon learn – to our complete and joyful satisfaction – the food is the same and just as good as ever.

We toy with idea of ordering Big Mandy Rice For Two ($32), but this is described to us in terms of being good for big fellas, very hungry.

So we back off and discover there’s a menu item just made for us – The Regular ($13).

This consists of a plate of Mandy Rice and your choice of lamb, beef, chicken steak or fish.

As on previous visits, our bowls of their incredible meat soup are brought before we’ve even placed our order proper.

This is a broth of lip-smacking sensations – spicy, heady with meatiness yet light on meat itself.

It’s simply wonderful.

Bennie’s chicken steak – hidden under a tasty array of grilled sautéed carrot, capsicum and onion – is more plentiful than it looks. The chicken meat is tending towards dryness but falls short enough of that to pass for tender, and has a wonderful charred-like flavour.

I like his chicken, he digs my lamb.

The sheep meat has form and structure yet is far from chewy and falls easily from the bones.

In both our cases, the rice is splendid – cooked in stock, spiced, every grain glistening.

As ever, our meals are helped along by long, tall glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice clinking with ice cubes.

Killer soup, terrific meat, sensational rice, just the right kind of vegetable accompaniment, freshly squeezed juice … $13.

This is a fantastic bargain.

The service here is friendly but efficient.

We can’t recommend Safari highly enough to anyone hankering for African eating a bit different from Footscray’s mostly Ethiopian fare.

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Baraka Restaurant

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121 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 0432 492 299

UPDATE 10/11/11: This restaurant appears to have closed its doors.

Menus? Who needs them!

That’s one of several profound lesson I have learnt since starting Consider The Sauce.

Where once I was timid and always veering towards fuss-free and non-confrontational dining out, I have become bolder, more curious and more adventurous.

In fact, the absence of a menu – let alone one handily pinned in an establishment’s window – is becoming a positive spur to perseverance.

Of course, a lack of menus at eating places doesn’t guarantee you’ll get great food just by asking.

But, as I have found to grand enrichment, sometimes you will.

Even better, the required inquisitiveness leads to face-to-face engagement with the people behind the restaurants that goes way beyond mere stabbing a digit at a menu, ordering and eating.

There’s nothing like inquiring along the lines of “Are you open for lunch, what have you got, how much is it, I’m hungry?” for raising smiles all round.

At Baraka, for instance, I get to meet young Mahamud Farah and enjoy the glowing pride he is taking in running the family business and his excitement about serving the tucker of his Somalian ancestry.

He promises that the next time I visit he’ll run the place’s lamb soup/broth by me, and based on luscious experiences at Safari, Yemeni Restaurant and Khartoum Centre, that’s something to be anticipated with relish.

In the meantime, I am well pleased with my mid-week lunch.

It’s no surprise that in talking with Mahamud I discover my options fall broadly into the meat-and-rice or pasta categories.

A young family is tucking into a communal bowl of spaghetti nearby, but the African/pasta connection is one I have yet to get my head around. Perhaps it’s because we eat so much pasta at home. It’s something to work on, though, as so many African eateries do pasta and ignoring the colonial Italian influence on north African food is a form of denial.

In the meantime, meat-and-rice it is.

Despite the lack of a menu, I have – by now – a good idea of what is coming my way.

The rice is bare bones but wonderful. No vegetable quotient, not even onion; just perfect rice cooked in stock and seasoned with a little pepper. The lamb stew that sits atop the rice is mild almost to the point of blandness, but is fixed right smartly with liberal usage of the little pot of chilli sauce that accompanies.

Another plate has pan-fried lamb that is much more tasty, with fat that is easily trimmed. Alongside is a salad of lettuce, spring onions, onion and capsicum that is just right.

My $13 lunch come with a glass of an OK mango/lemon drink, while a bottle of chilled water is placed on my table well before the food arrives.

This is simple, plain food with a kick. I am coming to think of this sort of north African fare as the Footscray equivalent of American soul food. I love it lots.

Thanks to the big telly right opposite my table, I am privileged to share my lunch with that noted ethnic tucker zealot Bill O’Reilly.

The sound is turned down as that rascal does his thing on his Fox News TV show, but I just know he’s raving about cheap eats rather than banging on about what an evil comminist the prez is. On ya, Bill!

Baraka has been open a month.

The premises it inhabits formerly housed a relatively formal Indian place that was short-lived. I never got to try it out as it was never open when I passed by. Before that it was a cheapo Indian place of no great distinguishment.

The place’s Indian history is still plain to see via the art work that continues to adorn the walls.

As time goes by, I hope Mahamud makes the place his own and finds himself with a winner on his hands.

Amin Cafe

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Little Khartoum Arcade/The Footscray Hub. Phone: 0401 008 957

The signs at either end – one on Nicholson St, the other on Albert St – still describe it as The Footscray Hub “Business Centre” – but in some quarters at least it is known as Little Khartoum Arcade.

Walking through it has become one of the “secret” treasures of living in the west.

There are money transfer places, shops selling T-shirts and cosmetic products, others with perfumes and spices – and even a few old-style barber establishments, one that recently gave me a fine haircut.

All of it speaks of Footscray’s African diaspora with a relaxed and “we belong” vibe.

The only disappointment for me has been the lack of an eatery from which to chow down and enjoy the great atmosphere.

I walked past the only place selling food many times, but was unimpressed by scant display of large samosas – sambusas in African parlance – so ambled on, bound ususally for Babylon or some other food place.

Than I heard  a whisper that more substantial fare was available from Amin Cafe for the asking.  I think I heard this very valuable information from Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog, but have been unable to find proof in either emails or blogs.

In any case, thanks!

For this information inspired me to inquire – with happy results.


After a brief discussion with the welcoming proprietor – yes, I am hungry, yes meat and rice will be fine – I am served with a meal that, no surprise, was familiar from our delicious forays to another Somalian refuge, Safari Restaurant in Ascot Vale.

My $12.50 lunch had some pan-fried lamb (halib) that looked a little gray and lacklustre, but was fine and tender. Also on board was a terrific chicken drumstick (doora), slightly coated with bread crumbs and seasoned. And there were some lettuce and tomato for colour and crunch.

But the star was the rice – as with so many of our experiences with north African and Middle Eastern food.

This was magic – but magic of a minimalist kind.

No sultanas, strands of fried onion, peas, almonds or other colour – just the odd bit of translucent onion and perfect rice, cooked in chicken stock with some lemon pepper and a seasoning mix called Zacin.

All my lunch was very mildly seasoned, but a small plastic tub of a fiery chilli condiment helped kick things along.

There are only three small tables at Amin Cafe, but they’re all taken as I enjoy my meal – all by what appear to be regulars.

As well, there was a steady trade from what I take to be similarly frequent customers for the sambusas – either lamb or fish – so I buy two for my next day’s work lunch. Even cold they’re good – lamb in one, canned tuna in the other, both with fine chewy pastry and filling given texture from cooked but still crunchy onion.

I’ll be back to Amin Cafe, for it gives me the same delectable satisfaction as eating at the communal table in the kitchen at Pelligrini’s in the CBD


Safari Restaurant

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159 Union Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 7175

Yes, another gem in Union Rd – this one just as tasty, affordable and, in its own mesmerising way, just as exotic as Yemini Restaurant up the road a piece.

Like that joint, Safari Restaurant’s stock in trade is a roll call of meat, veg and carbs.

As such it seems an ideal place for those who find the very idea of tibs, doro wat, injera and other items bought to Melbourne’s inner west by the African diaspora a step too far or just too weird to even contemplate eating.

Describing Safari’s food as “meat and three veg”, though, does it a grave disservice – for this Somalian fare is much, much more delicious than that humble label implies.

Bennie and I have been regular visitors this year, but for my most recent lunch I was joined by my fellow DeadHead Kurt.

There was a little confusion while ordering, so we ended up both getting the $17 meal of lamb (hilib, on the bone, three pieces), rice (barris) and accompaniments.

This was overload for lunch, so it’s helpful to know that there’s a $15 version available, with the rice and meat coming on the same plate, and the same side dishes and vegetables provided.

But even at $17, our lunches fully qualified for a hearty western suburbs cheap eats thumbs up.

You see, at Safari meals come with what, in New Orleans and South Louisiana, is referred to as “lagniappe” – that is, “a little something special”.

In this case, that involves, first up, a long, cool drink – either freshly squeezed orange juice clinking with ice cubes, or a much sweeter and richer milk-based concoction that I personally find too cloying.

Second comes a bowl of soup.

Bowl of soup? That sounds miserable and woefully inaccurate to describe what is clearly the most delicious thing I’ve eaten this year thus far.

It’s a bowl of simple broth, yes – modestly seasoned with a little chili, coriander, lemon pepper and garlic. You may even find a few strands of meat, or the odd slice of carrot.

But at it’s heart this is simply, magnificently Essence Of Lamb As A Work Of Art.

Gosh, it’s good!

On to our main courses – and more magic.

The rice was plain, but brilliant –  seasoned, again with restraint, with garlic and coriander, and cooked in vegetable stock. Worthy of gleeful inhalation.

My three pieces of lamb, one of which was a cutlet, were tender, tasty and wonderfully free of fat and/or gristle  – not always the case with food such as this.

Completing the picture were some good salad greens and a goodly amount of a sensational pan-fried jumble of onion, carrot and capsicum, which was heaven with the rice and generous smears of the tangy chili sauce provided.

As a point of difference, Kurt split his carb order 50/50 between rice and spaghetti. The pasta was OK – but it was just pasta, and certainly not a patch on the divine rice.

After our wonderful lunch, we spent some time chatting to owner Mohamed Shide about his food, the restaurant, its multinational clientele and the story that brought him to Australia and, finally, his own eating shop in Ascot Vale.

It’s a long story that involves war, many years, separation from family and other trials and tribulations – the sort of moving odyssey that is so intrinsic to Australia.

So happy were we with our repast and our conversation with Mohamed that I gaily strolled away without paying. Happily, I also left my wallet on the counter, necessitating my return anyhow.

As I reclaimed my wallet and attempted to pay, Mohamed attempted to wave my money away – unsuccessfully.

Mohamed, my friend, that’s simply not what I’m about.

If by writing this I can can send a few more people through your door, that’ll be all the payment I could wish.

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