Review: Experience diverse culinary cultures on a Melbourne African food tour
Footscray in Melbourne’s inner-west is a hot-bed of ethnic culinary styles, including Vietnamese and African. This fascinating African food walking tour will introduce you to the amazing tastes of the precinct, and break down social barriers in the process. Review: Adam Ford
This Melbourne African food tour will take you on a relaxed gastronomical stroll through the Melbourne suburb of Footscray — home to a vibrant community of nationalities from Sub-Saharan Africa. Along the way you’ll enjoy a three-course progressive lunch, combining the spices and flavours you would find in Ethiopia and Sudan. Duration: 3 hours (approx.)
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It’s easy to forget you’re actually on a tour with our guide Himanshi Munshaw Luhar.
The pace and format of this Melbourne African food tour of the suburb of Footscray with Foodie Trails is relaxed and easy-going, and Himanshi has a knack for pulling everyone together. Guests have the opportunity to share traditional Sudanese and Ethiopian cuisine at a number of eateries — and gain a greater understanding of Melbourne’s cultural diversity as part of the deal.
By the time we head off to our first restaurant the group are already chatting away like old friends. It’s amazing what the prospect of sharing food can do, but of course that’s the way it’s always been.
We’re always hearing in Melbourne that Footscray is on the verge of gentrification. Possibly someone forgot to invite Footscray to that particular meeting. This is still one of Melbourne’s grittiest suburbs. Cheap rents and close proximity to the city have attracted large migrant populations. The precinct is now home to a 5,000-strong Sudanese community.
There are many restaurants in the area that serve a variety of cuisines from across the African continent. They can sometimes appear unwelcoming — but as Himanshi explains — it’s quite often a language barrier or a restaurateur who is simply unsure of how to accommodate western tastes.
We begin our tour with a short stroll from the meeting point at Footscray Station along Nicholson Street to the Khartoum Centre African and Sudanese Restaurant. This modern, bustling bistro offers an extensive menu with Sudanese, Egyptian and Ethiopian-style dishes. From start to finish everything is absolutely delicious.
We enjoy delicately spiced Sudanese falafels and a ful or slow-cooked spicy fava bean porridge (generally served for breakfast). There’s also fresh bread straight from the oven, used to sop up the ful by hand. The meal is accompanied by fragrant cinnamon tea.
The next stop on this Melbourne African food tour is the Ethiopian Lemat Injera Bakery, where a batch of injera bread has just come out of the oven and is selling fast. This sourdough-raised flatbread looks a bit like a large thin crumpet and is served with stews and curries. The smell of berbere spice mix, popular in Ethiopian cooking, fills the store.
We make two more stops in downtown Footscray, firstly at a traditional home wares and gift-shop, which is well stocked with gold and silver tea sets and decorative trays.
Next door there’s a hair-braiding salon, which is extremely popular with the local community. While hair braids once signified the wearer’s class, they’re now just a must-have fashion accessory and there’s a huge range of synthetic hair braids on sale.
Next we head up Barkly Street and down Victoria, passing under the railway bridge and into trendy Seddon. It’s amazing just how quickly the urban landscape — and property values — change. While we’re still only two or three streets from the centre of Footscray, Seddon is almost a different world.
Our destination is the fabulous African Taste restaurant, a tiny eatery that could well be one of Melbourne’s best-kept culinary secrets. For starters Himanshi orders deep-fried cauliflower (out of this world!) and katenya garlic bread flavoured with berbere and sweet red peppers.
Next up there’s spinach and ricotta gnocchi and tibes, small pieces of marinated lamb in a rich tomato and berbere sauce, with injera bread to mop it all up. An Ethiopian coffee ceremony and fresh popcorn round off the proceedings.
By now we’re well over our scheduled finish time but no one seems in any hurry to make a move. We’re all having way too much of a good time.
It’s a tour Jim, but not as we know it. This Melbourne African food tour is a deliciously different experience — and a great way to experience the city’s ever-increasing cultural and culinary diversity.
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.