African Taste

124 Victoria St, Seddon
Phone: 9687 0560

I first heard about this place not long after I moved to Footscray. One of the neighbours mentioned it at my housewarming. Then I heard about it again from Lauren not long after that, and also Deb wrote about it around the same time. All of the reviews were positive.

Yet it took me well over a year to finally get down here. And it’s only a short walk from my house, too. For shame. Anyway, I finally did make it, with my housemate and a big bottle of French cider in tow. It was a Sunday night, and the place was super busy. It’s a pretty small restaurant, and every seat was full when we walked in. Thankfully a couple was about to leave, so we put our dibs on it, and wandered down to the nearby bottleshop. That’s where the cider came in.

The waitress (owner?) informed us that there may be a bit of a long wait, as we’d been seated just after two large tables. We didn’t mind, as we had cider and gossip to keep ourselves amused. We pretty much finished the cider before the food arrived, but thankfully, African Taste has a selection of African beers. Which we naturally hoed into. Which will explain why I don’t really remember what this first dish was.
I remember it being pretty good, and it was my housemate’s first encounter with injera. It’s always a bit tricky to describe injera; lots of people call it a flatbread, but to me, it seems more like a crepe made with fermented flour (hence the slight tangy taste). I remember liking this dish, in any case. Anything you get to eat with your hands is A-OK with me!

Then came the Genfo African Fufu. When ordering it, I pronounced it “foo-foo”. When the waitress read it back, she pronounced it “fyeu-fyeu”. Then we spent the next minute or so trying to imitate her pronunciation and giggling like idiots. Anyway, Africa Taste’s fufu is like gnocchi, except it’s made with bulghur flour. And then pan-fried, and coated with a tasty sauce and a healthy dollop of yoghurt. We had it with fish. It’s amazing, and I’d totally go back for more of this.
We also ordered a Moroccan chicken salad – I think it was Moroccan? – with a bed of couscous, which was nice, but decidedly less interesting than the other two dishes.
With so many African restaurants in the area, it’s hard to know which ones to visit. Interestingly, I never hear reports of bad experiences about any of them from friends. Is it because we’re all too inexperienced to know what to expect, or is the standard just generally high in the area? I’m not sure. But I’m going to keep trying more places to figure it out!

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82 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 1955

I’ve been meaning to get our of my local dining rut. Which isn’t so much of a rut as a predilection to eating at Vietnamese restaurants when I go out for dinner locally. It’s hard¬† to stop myself from heading for the enticing tastes of fish sauce, chilli and lemongrass. But as those who live in the area, and those who are clued in enough to read Lauren’s Footscray Food Blog know, there’s a lot more to the ‘hood than pho and broken rice.

When Mr J agreed to come out West for dinner one Saturday night, I thought I’d take the chance to suggest we hit up one of the African restaurants nearby. Now I use the term African only out of ignorance – I don’t really know much of the intricacies which would distinguish between an Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurant, nor any other country; though these two seem to be the most common in Footscray.¬† I feel a little guilty, as I rankle at the thought of someone referring to a Korean or Thai restaurant as an ‘Asian’ restaurant. I’ll make an effort to educate myself further in these matters soon.

Originally, I had thought to go to Adulis, but it’s recently closed – though another restaurant of indeterminate African origin has sprung up in its place – so went to Awash, as it had more people dining there. It’s something of a sheep-like move, but I still get put off eating at restaurants with no patrons in them, unless I’ve been recommended to go there. I avoid places with spruikers on the street in the same way. So we stepped in out of the rain, and were met by bright green walls, the smell of bebere and the happy beats and chanting of the African music playing in the background. There were no staff in sight, so we seated ourselves, and a moment later, an earth-mother type lady came out with menus. The place is pretty small, and I think pretty much just run by a family who work both in the kitchen and front of house.

Mr J had never eaten food of any African variety, so he was pretty excited. This was during my Lenten red meat fast, so we ordered the vegetarian combination, and the doro wat – a chicken ‘curry’ – along with two Ethiopian beers to wash it down.

Three of the great things about Ethiopian/Eritrean food is that it’s served on injera, it’s a shared meal, and you eat it with your hands. Food’s always more playful and enjoyable when you eat it with your hands, I think. And there’s a sense of bonding that comes with that process. Hence the term ‘to break bread’ with someone. So as long as you’re not too crazily clumsy, Ethiopian is probably a great second date option. Things get a bit messy, especially towards the end, when the injera has soaked up a lot of sauce and starts falling apart in your hands. But it’s a pretty level playing field, so as long as your date has a sense of humour – why are you on a second date if s/he doesn’t – it’s a lot of fun.

The various lentils and vegetables were full of flavour, though the heavy use of spices without any real chilli heat is something of a confusing thing to my palate. I’m fairly sure that’s just because I have turned into something of a chilli fiend in the past year or so. There were three different types of lentils, along with a braised kale (or silverbeet) and another dish of carrots and cabbage. My favourite was the kale. The doro wat was also really tasty, though the chicken was a bit dry.

It’s probably not the greatest African food I’ve had, but it was pretty good. All in all, Awash is a great, casual place. Given the nature of the ‘hands on’ eating, I’d only go there with friends, or people I want to get friendly with!

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113 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 9128

You know, sometimes you meet people in your life and they will forever be tied to a certain place in your mind, and certain meals that you share. For a group of my friends, who all went to Viet Nam as Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYADs) that place was Viet Nam, and well, that food is Vietnamese. Even though we’ve been back for over a year, every time we catch up, it seems to be at a Vietnamese restaurant. Until recently, when Ms J came over from Adelaide, and made the pointed remark that she was ‘over Vina’. So Mr D and I set about looking for an interesting alternative. We settled on African.

The request from Ms J was that it be close to East Melbourne, where she was staying, so we opted for Nyala African restaurant, on Brunswick St. In the lead up, another of our group had said her colleague was Ethiopian, and didn’t find the food very authentic, but we reasoned that it was an ‘African’ restaurant, not an Ethiopian restaurant, so that’s OK.

Though I’ve been to a few African restaurants now, yet I still haven’t moved past the “I don’t know much about this cuisine, let’s just get the banquet” stage. So we got the banquet.

First up, we got a trio of dips, with a stack of thin ‘mountain bread’. There was a spicy sweet potato, a smoky eggplant, and I can’t remember what the beige one was, so let’s just call it hummus? They were good way to sate the hunger, anyhow, because by the time they arrived, most of us were starving.

Next up were the entrees. A chunk of fried cauliflower (think pakora) and a tasty beef mince mixture, with raisins and flaked almonds.
The two worked together quite nicely, as the cauliflower was a little on the bland side, and the mince was full of punchy flavours. I’m not sure I would recommend either item on its own.

Then the real feast began. First out came the basis of the meal – couscous, some salad, and the all important injera. Unlike Cafe Lalibela or The Abyssinian, the injera here is kind of small, and doesn’t come as the base of the meal on which the rest of the dishes are plonked. There’s still an element of communal eating, in that you’re sharing the food, but it’s not as intimate, because you’re not all ripping at the injera in the middle with your hands. Instead, you portion food onto your place Western style, which is probably more hygienic, but definitely not as much fun!

First up was a beef stew/curry. This was not bad, but not that exciting. Somehow, despite it being a ‘curry’, it was a bit bland.
This was the other beef dish, with a pepper sauce, which was significantly tastier. I think this might have actually been pepper as in capsicum, but it was good either way, despite the Americanism.
Chickenn curry. Tasty, but again, not that memorable. This was one of the dishes which we didn’t end up finishing. There was a lot of food, but this wasn’t such a big dish, so it really should have been polished off. If you’re ordering a la carte, I’d give it a miss.
Then came a sizzling lamb dish. This was by far my favourite. Thinking back, maybe it was goat. That might explain why I liked it so much. In any case, the spice rub had just the right amount of chilli-heat, and I kept going back for more, even after I had proclaimed that I was full. And done. And finished. Oh OK, one more bit of lamb/goat, then.
The second chicken dish had a similar spice rub to the lamb, only there was a tomato-ey sauce to it. It was also a great dish, and if I went back, I’d have the chicken and the lamb/goat.
There was also another vegetable dish, but it was served a little late in the game, so I didn’t have any, and I forgot to take a picture. Food coma was setting in.

All in all, Nyala is a reasonably good place to eat, though I would characterise it as a slightly adulterated African food experience, which is good if you’re looking for an easy introduction to the cuisine.
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The Abyssinian

277 Racecourse Rd, Kensington
Phone: 9376 8754

It was a little bit of serendipity. Belly filling serendipity. I had to meet up with @jeroxie and @eatnik to plan an upcoming event, and the only time we could all squeeze it in was before their dinner with the @eatdrinkstagger crew at the Abyssinian. Wait, what? You guys planned a dinner at the Abyssinian without me? Oh, someone cancelled and there’s an opening at the table. Sure, I’ll come along!

So nine of us trundled down to Racecourse Road, through the insipid Melbourne drizzle, and spilled through the door into the warm, vibrant interior of the Abyssinian. After a cursory glance at the menu, we unanimously decided on the set banquet (with meat – there is a vegetarian option, but that’s not how we roll) and added a beef dish. The beef dishes contain raw beef – think beef tartare – so aren’t part of the standard banquet.

We also took the chance to sample a few of the Ethiopian beers on the menu. I recommend the St George. It’s a pretty light style beer, which goes well with the mild curries served up here.

As there were nine of us, we were presented with three huge platters, each lined with injera – an African flatbread which has the spongy texture somewhere between a pancake and a crepe. Injera has lots of little bubbly holes in the surface, which makes it especially great for slopping up the sauces of the stews and lentils with which it’s served. There’s also a great little tang to the injera itself.

The injera comes topped with the various stews and curries that it is the accompaniment for. From the top, clockwise: braised vegetables, goat, lentils, chicken, beans, fish, more lentils, lamb. @jeroxie commented on the incredibly low overheads for the restaurant, as the way you attack such a huge share dish is with your hands! So no washing up of cutlery, and we were provided with little paper plates.

I love this style of communal eating. There’s something about sharing food and diving in unadulterated by cutlery that just seems so much more personal and close than even sharing dishes at your local Chinese restaurant. I guess it’s got something to do with the fact that you’re counting on each other to have clean hands? Nothing like an implicit contract of hygiene to bring people closer together.

Each of the stews were good in their own right, but my favourites were definitely the curried chicken stew (very similar to a Malaysian curry, funnily enough, but without the strong coconut milk presence) and the darker version of the lentils. They had quite an great kick to them, where the yellow lentils were a lot more mild.

The beef dish was someting of a disappointment. I was expecting an intense, raw beefiness to hit me when I put it in my mouth – I’m a fan of rare/raw beef, for those of you who don’t know about my yukke and pho obsessions – but the beef seemed to have been somehow tempered with salt and oil. It seemed less raw and almost a little bit cured. Not altogether unpleasant, but definitely not what I was expecting.
In a mammoth team effort, @jeroxie, @th0i3 and I managed to finish our platter. Then we groaned about our full bellies for a couple of minutes, before @th0i3 and I ordered the ‘cream caramel’ for dessert.
Yeah, I was a little bit dubious about creme caramel being served as a dessert at an African restaurant – we used to serve a packet one at our restaurant in Swan Hill – but the yearning for something sweet to finish off the meal was too great. It came out, and after one spoonful, I knew I was not going to leave any of that deliciousness in the bowl once I was done.

I’d definitely recommend you head down to the Abyssinian if you haven’t been there yet. Head down with a group of your besties, and feast it up. Just make sure you wash your hands beforehand!

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