Footscray is the multi cultural centre of Melbourne. Visit Footscray and try out the cheap and exotic food among the rows available. My visit to Footscray was to sample the Ethiopian cuisine made famous by Ethiopian immigrants who have settled in the area.

Cafe Lalibela has been a stalwart of the Cheap Eats guide for years now and seems to be the top choice if I wanted to try Ethiopian cuisine. The place itself is homey and done much nicer than the other food shops in the area. Very authentic feel with African artifacts displayed throughout.

Cafe Lalibelah

Wat is the traditional Ethiopian dish. Wat means stew. Each meat stew (wat) has a similar onion-and spice base featuring berbere which is a spicy chili paste. Wat can be prepared with chicken (doro) or beef (sik sik). It can also be vegetarian or even contain fish.

Instead of a stew, the meat or vegetables can be sauteed and this is called Tibs. Another Ethiopian dish is Kitfo, which consists of raw (or rare) ground beef marinated in mitmita ( a very spicy chili powder) and niter kibbeh ( seasoned clarified butter). This is kind of like a steak tartare and looked pretty strange to me. It looked just like a mound of raw minced beef which I wasn’t too adventurous to try!

Injeera and wat

We had Do-Ro WAT ($12) which is chicken stew marinated with spices and herbs simmered with hard boiled eggs, berbere ( spice mixture ), garlic, onions and niter kibbeh ( seasoned clarified butter ). For some legumes to balance the meat, we had Meser Wat ($12), lentil stew simmered in hot peppers, onions, garlic and spices, moderately cooked until they slightly blend with the sauce.

The meat is scooped onto a huge tray covered with injera. Injera is the traditional Ethiopian bread used in place of utensils. Injera is a thin but spongy flatbread as large as a tabletop. It is made from locally grown teff—the smallest grain in existence and found only in the African horn. It has a very tangy taste to it from the fermentation of teff. Be careful with this bread as it is very filling! 

Everyone on the tables shares their meal from the tray served. There’s an Ethiopian maxim: people who eat from the same plate never betray one another. You tear off a piece of the injera bread and use it to scoop up the wot or tibs from the communal tray. A bottle of Ethiopian beer would be a good way to wash down all the wot.

Summary : Ethiopian cuisine is an experience. The flavours of the injera bread and wats were all new to me as well as communal eating. Although Ethiopian cuisine didn’t really grab me, I was still very glad to have tried Cafe Lalibelah.

Rating : Chance Visitor
Food : Wots

Cafe Lalibelah
91 Irving Street
Footscray VIC 3011
Tel : +61 3 9687 0300