89 Irving Street Footscray, Victoria 3011
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 8am-9pm; Sun 10am-9pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9689 8185|
Ethiopian cafe Konjo, on busy Irving Street in Footscray, is a genuine family business, stretching across the continents. Owned by husband and wife team Abdul Hussen and Rozenn Blouin, Konjo has a sister cafe in Smith Street, Collingwood, but it's the Footscray cafe that's consistently busy, from breakfast to dinner, seven days a week.
The breakfast menu here is compact - essentially a choice of two dishes or a range of pastries and house-made croissants, which are astoundingly cheap and delicious. And, as you'd expect from an authentic African cafe, there's neither a bircher muesli nor an avocado in sight.
Konjo is about as authentic as it gets - right down to the the Ethiopian spice mix, berbere, which forms the basis of both brekkie dishes.
A mixture of 25 herbs and spices, Konjo's berbere mix is made by Hussen's mum in Ethiopia; Hussen and Blouin collect it on their regular visits there. They also bring back local arts and craft, which they also sell in their cafes.
"Abdul's mum gets all the spices from her local market and then, because it's a big job to make it all, she gets all her friends together and they spend a week making the mix," says Blouin. "When we get to her house there's a room just full of all the different spices!"
The mixture is chilli-based but also includes cinnamon, fenugreek, cardamom, garlic, ginger, basil and many others native only to Africa. It's a key ingredient in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine and is used in both of Konjo's breakfast dishes - the silts, or Ethiopian scrambled eggs, and the ful, a broad-bean-based, stew-like dish.
Made from coarsely mashed broad beans and cooked in a tomato and onion base and the berbere mixture, the ful is a rich stew, topped with sliced hard-boiled egg and fresh green chilli, and accompanied by generous chunks of fluffy white bread, which serves as both accompaniment and cutlery. The silts, too, is eaten with the bread, and will make you re-think the boring old scrambled eggs you make at home. These are cooked in niter kibbeh, a spiced clarified butter, tomatoes, onion and berbere. Both dishes are huge and just $8 apiece, or $10 with a traditional Ethiopian spiced tea.
Konjo is famed in the area for its $15 all-you-can-eat Friday and Saturday buffet, but Blouin says the breakfast - served every day - is almost as popular.
"A lot of our customers are Ethiopian but we also have lots of Australians coming for breakfast as well, especially lots of students who live in the area, because it's a very good deal," she says. "We have many who come in every single day for breakfast."
There's a regular espresso machine on hand, but really, if you're into your coffee, you can't conscionably dine in without ordering a traditional coffee, hand-roasted on the spot (be prepared to wait a good 20 minutes though) and served in a jebena, a traditional clay pot, complete with ceremonial incense.
"Coffee is a very important part of Ethiopian culture and we do a lot of the traditional coffee here," says Blouin. "Even in Australia, if you visit an Ethiopian family at home, they will roast the coffee beans in front of you. It's very traditional."
And definitely worth the wait.