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!)