121 Nicholson Street Footscray, Victoria 3011
|Opening hours||Monday-Friday 11.30am-8.30pm, Saturday and Sunday 12.30pm-8.30pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9687 3293|
Feeling foreign in your own city is a gift and, even more than footy or trams or Oslo Davis, it’s the profusion of languages, colours and cuisines that makes me happy to live in Melbourne. When the gift of difference is bestowed with such warmth and care as at Ras Dashen then my pleasurometer peaks.
Ras Dashen is the highest mountain in Ethiopia. Its three-year-old namesake in the Footscray flatlands is owned by Wondimeo Alemeo and Alemitu Aberra, who have been in Australia since 2000, after a period as refugees in Sudan and six years in New Zealand. The couple welcome many African customers and others less familiar with east African cuisine and their dining room is a cheerful mishmash. Travel posters spruik Ethiopia’s “13 months of sunshine”, a flatscreen blares Al Jazeera, pot plants and textiles add colour and tone.
The menu is built around Ethiopian tibs (grills), wats (stews) and injera, a spongy pancake made with fermented dough of sorghum, wheat and barley flour. Traditionally, injera is both plate and cutlery: a medley of dishes is heaped on it and diners tear away morsels to use as scoop or spoon. Here, non-Africans will be offered cutlery and bowls.
A beguiling spice mix brings warm heat to gomen be-tibs, a delicious braise of cubed lamb, leafy greens and garlicky clarified butter. The same buttery goodness is swooshed through the shiro wat, a subtle, creamy stew made from milled dried chickpeas and split peas. Animal-free eating is common in Ethiopia so cooks are well versed in vegan dishes; the various vegetarian options here can be made with oil rather than butter. Other specialties include soup made with bone broth, marinated and fried whole fish, and kitfo, raw beef that’s chopped by hand. Ethiopian beer is on hand but I recommend the warm ginger drink to stave off winter lurgies.
Everything is served with such pride that my joy at journeying to Footscray to travel the world is amplified by the warm glow created by good will and great flavours. It's a marvellous Melbourne recipe.
Rating: Three stars (out of five)