Melbourne has oodles to offer visitors but if I had to pick one stand out feature then I would definitely say the food without hesitation. The variety, diversity and quality available is outstanding and gives any cosmopolitan city a run for its money, and on the scheme of big cities Melbourne is really not even that big. The exceptional array of cuisine is 100% thanks to decades of immigration from all corners. Name a country and I can guarantee Melbourne will have at least one if not dozens of restaurants touting said countries local cuisine. Today's rant about how good the food is in Melbourne is specifically dedicated to the many fantastic Ethiopian & Eritrean restaurants around Melbourne. As far as I can tell these are some of Melbourne's best kept secrets, all of the ones I've checked out are in the inner suburbs and frequented by locals but never by tourists. So consider yourself now privy to some priceless local knowledge, your taste buds can thank me later.
So what is this region of African food all about?
It's food to be shared with friends and loved ones, no utensils needed (you will need several napkins however). The greatest joy of communal food other than good company, is of course variety. Because you're sharing you can pick out many dishes to sample and African cuisine has got you covered. It can also be an excellent choice for vegetarians. Most dishes are fragrant and flavourful stews of lamb, goat, chicken or fresh seafood as well many delicious dishes of lentils, chickpeas, beans and vegetables. The spices and flavours are unique and not really comparable with Indian curries however the rich sauce consistency is similar and I'm pretty sure they're not shy with the ghee. The flavours you'll have to sample for yourself as I don't know how to describe them other than just so tasty, make sure you try the berbere! Sloppy stews with no utensils you cry? That's where a delicious thing called injera bread comes in. Usually lining the large platter is a pile of delicious fluffy injera bread which I would describe as being like a great big sour dough pancake. You just pull off a piece of injera bread and use it to scoop up some tasty stew. De-lish! And as a bonus you can wash it down with one of several African lagers that are available - usually dirt cheap.
Here are my recommendations for the best African in town!
1. Little Africa, 358 Victoria St, North Melbourne
Very close to the CBD and easy to get to, although not super well sign posted, this cosy spot is where my love of Ethiopian food all began. I've been back multiple times since and they do take-out as well. The Ganberi ( shrimp in berbere sauce) is out of this world delicious and full of yummy green chillies (but they'll give you some natural yoghurt if you can't handle the fire). I also recommend the Foul( beans) and Dhoro Aletcha (chicken) here. Whet your whistle with a Castel lager and then finish off with a traditional Ethiopian coffee, black and blended with ginger, this is surprisingly delicious. I love this place and give it 5 stars. Make sure you bring cash - they don't accept cards and it may pay to call ahead as they are both tiny and popular.
2. The Abyssinian, 277 Racecourse Rd, Kensington
Take a cab or just hop on Tram 57 to get here. The decor here is really cool and the staff friendly and accommodating. I've rocked up here more than once without a reservation and they made us welcome even though they always are busy. You can order a la carte but I would recommend not even reading the menu and just opting straight for the chef's choice platter - you can go for a mix of meats and vegetarian or a straight vegetarian. It's only $25 for one or $45 for two and then an extra $22 per head for more than two. If you go for the chef's choice you won't need an entree. You'll need to arrive hungry! Or bring a wheel burrow so your friend can wheel you out of there. It's so much food and it's all so tasty you'll keep eating even when you're full. If you do happen to have hollow legs, I tried the creme caramel here once and, while not an African dish, they smashed it out of the ball park and I rolled home. Their website also brought my attention to this awesome video so if you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Marge. Open Monday- Saturday
3. Nyala, 356 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
I threw a birthday party here with 19 of my nearest and dearest and can highly recommend this place for larger groups. They have several banquet options at $30, $33 and $38 a head for mountains of delicious food and what might be the cheapest corkage in town for BYO wine ($4). The service was great and in addition to injera bread they also served couscous and rice to accompanying the various delicious stews. It's right amidst the bustling bar and restaurant district of Fitzroy and is a great place to start a night out as it's minutes away from tonnes of cool bars and is only a quick tram ride from the CBD ( Tram 12 will take you here ). Alternatively it's well situated as a place to refuel after a long day shopping Gertrude and Brunswick Streets.
4. Ras Dashen, 121 Nicholson St, Footscray
My local for Ethiopian, Ras Dashen caters mostly to the local African community living around Footscray and there's always a group of Ethiopian men socialising and enjoying a beer or coffee on the side walk tables. That it is largely frequented by locals is a testament to the authenticity of the food. That said, you will be made to feel very welcome and the hosts are really friendly and eager to share their native cuisine with all. The African lagers are outrageously cheap and the food is sublime. I don't know what more you could ask for. Actually I do, very cool Ethiopian music and they have that too. Unpretentious, authentic, welcoming and delicious, venture out west a little and check this place out - it's a 5 min walk from Footscray train station.