Time-honed family recipes and a powerhouse mother-daughter partnership make Saba’s a standout during this a part of Fitzroy.
Fermented, communal, gluten-free, minimal waste – supported trends and buzzwords alone, Ethiopian cuisine should be the most well-liked ticket in town. In hip-and-happening Fitzroy a minimum of it’s going to alright be, with Saba’s packed to the hilt on a Friday night with everyone from young vegan lovebirds to chatty family gatherings.
They’re all here for the earthy pulses, rich stews and bubbly injera cooked by Saba Alemayoh’s mother, Tekebash Gebre, who puts within the hours on the pans while her daughter manages the ground. For the last five years, their homey restaurant has been a jolt of colour on this stretch of Brunswick Road, better known for its many pubs and late-stage gentrification.
For those not already plugged into Melbourne’s thriving Ethiopian scene, the cuisine is centred around injera, a bouncy flatbread made up of ground teff seed that’s fermented until spongy and possessing of an unmistakable tang. Saba’s is formed from 100 per cent teff (many places use a flour blend) meaning the entire menu is additionally a coeliac or gluten-avoidant’s safe space. Injera acts as both carb and cutlery, wont to scoop, swipe and mop all bite.
A one-woman powerhouse, Saba socialises with regulars, handles orders and deftly guides confused newbies with wit and charm. It does mean that things here take time, with long stretches between entrees and courses not uncommon. So don’t come here if you’re during a rush. Do order some entrees post-haste, and geez, pace yourself on the Ethiopian lagers. Consider crisp, poker-hot florets of teff-battered cauliflower but don’t hesitate on Catania, an after-school snack constructed simply from t, and angles of steamy injera sandwiched with chilli butter. The lightly sourdough bread, dripping from each pore with bright red grease, is Flavourtown with a capital F. Fairy bread, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
When mains do arrive, it’s a spectacle. Every dish is upturned onto a vibrant, injera-lined basket – veggies, stews and everyone, next to every other during a wheel of delicious fortune (so hark up early if there’s a strict dietary on board). With the subtle, tart twang of injera the constant in every mouthful, it’s best played off against a spread of textures. A winning vegetarian combination is found with split red lentils cooked down into a heavily-spiced paste followed by the brilliant crunch of garlicky Chinese broccoli and ending with creamy, cumin-y ful – a Sudanese dish of stewed fava beans fortified with chopped coddled egg and shavings of feta.
Beef fried in pepper butter and lamb tossed with slippery okra require a touch extra jaw work, so next time order the showstopping tel sebhi twice. Here, the diced goat is slow-cooked during a thick stew of tomato and onion dashed with berbere, an Ethiopian spice mixture of chilli, garlic, ginger and a dozen approximately other magic ingredients. Achingly tender, rust-red and richer than Croesus, it’s over so soon you’ll be fighting for that last little bit of flavour-soaked injera beneath.
Read More: Ethiopian Review
A happy side effect of Ethiopian-style dining may be a dramatic drop by phone use at the table – seems when you’re eating together with your hands, you’re less inclined to the touch that specific germ crucible. Screen time down means engagement together with your food and company up – no newfangled phone locker situation required.
With its prime location, charismatic proprietor and glossy appearance, Saba’s has undoubtedly been many Melburnians’ first introduction to North African cooking, and that we have much to thank Alemayoh (also a rising community arts leader) for that. It’s nice to understand that when your belly feels its first rumble after a few of beers at the Fitz or you’ve wearied yourself boutique hopping on Brunswick Street that the love of a mother’s cooking, and her daughter’s beaming pride in it, are never distant.