Although Somalia is not usually associated with the African Safari, the name of this restaurant is quite apt as, for most of us, it was a long and fascinating journey into the Western Suburbs.
159 Union Rd. Ascot Vale
The central client base for this restaurant appears to be Somali taxi drivers, with a steady stream making their way through this establishment during the evening. Usually if an ethnic restaurant is frequented by people of that ethnic group it is a good indicator that the food will be traditional and authentic. Safari Cafe is no exception to this rule. The food is excellent and plentiful, and, considering there was only one waiter, the service was warm and personable.
This week’s selection of Somali safari-ers were Philip, Helen, Nick, Rami and Caroline.
At the beginning of the evening, as we began to browse the menu, we were treated to complementary jugs of rose water and sweet milk. Both drinks were refreshing and were just a taste of the hospitality offered at Safari.
Next, we were treated to complementary soups, which the waiter described as vegetarian…with meat… The soup had a sour and slightly spicy flavour; in fact, it was reminiscent of an Italian minestrone soup, which is probably due to the Italian colonisation of Somalia.
When we finally got to choose dishes for ourselves, we decided on sharing large plates of rice, pasta, our selection of meats, all cooked with special herbs and vegetables. These plates were called Federations, and we ordered two Big Federations for 2. They were so big that we had enough leftovers for two large lunches! On one of the Big Federations we had lamb chops (hilib) and steak; and on the other we had boneless fish and diced lamb (suqar). All the meat was tender (the chops were literally falling off the bone) with a sweet flavouring, most likely due to the limejuice that was all pervasive, but not overwhelming.
The rice on the Big Federations was flavoured with cinnamon and was similar to the rice we tried at the Persian restaurant. The pasta, on the other hand, was a thin spaghetti with a tomato-based sauce – definitely influenced by the Italian colonists. Further, these dishes had a fair sprinkling of dates. These three aspects of the meal really highlighted the history of Somali cuisine and its location as a trade hub on the Horn of Africa.
The other dish that we ordered was a stir-fried bread dish called cheppti. This surprising dish was definitely a highlight in a meal that had many highlights. It was hard to pinpoint the exact flavours, with all diners feeling that this dish tasted familiar yet unique at the same time. The tender, but firm, texture of the cooked bread strips only added to the experience.
Our meal ended just as it had begun, with complementary drinks. The Somali tea was probably the sweetest, most sugary drink we had ever drunk – EVER! At first, you taste a pleasant mix of honey and tea. This is quickly overwhelmed by a warm rose water flavour. Not to be out done, the aftertaste is of pure sugar. So sugary was this drink that only one diner managed to finish it all; and all of us felt that we needed to brush our teeth afterwards.
Somali food is an interesting mix of African, Italian and Arabic cuisines, which makes for a unique dining experience that is definitely worth a trip out to the Western Suburbs; and with a meal costing about $15 each, including complimentary drinks and soup, you can’t even use the excuse of petrol being too expensive.