By Sofia Levin |

When 25-year-old Saba Alemayoh​ visits relatives in Ethiopia, she packs her least favorite clothes – suitcases are emptied on arrival and filled with local ingredients to bring back to Melbourne. Her first business, Saba’s Health Foods, grew from friends asking for zip-lock bags of teff (gluten-free flour used to make injera​ flatbread). When teff was awarded superfood status in the media, Alemayoh began selling to health food stores and at farmers’ markets. Now she’s gone a step further and opened a 50-seat restaurant.

There are traditional touches in the pared-back space: a series of regional photographs on canvases here, a colourful arrangement of traditional woven baskets there. The upstairs function space is a week away, and at 1pm from Friday to Sunday there’s an Ethiopian coffee roasting demonstration (add a shot of local ouzo to kickstart the weekend).

Alemayoh’s mother is in the kitchen fermenting injera​ and cooking birsen​ (split red lentils with Ethiopian spices) and keyih sebhi (rich and tender red lamb stew). A couple of Sudanese dishes also feature, a nod to Alemayoh’s childhood as an immigrant in Sudan, where her mother sold tea and coffee at the front of the house to get by.

The menu is completely gluten-free and vegans and vegetarians are well catered for, thanks to the majority orthodox Christian population in Ethiopia observing more than 200 religious days a year of a vegan diet.

“Tradition doesn’t stand still, you lose bits and incorporate bits – I want to share the culture with a wider group of people,” says Alemayoh. As if on cue, a woman pops her head in, “do you have a menu I can look at?” she asks, “I’ve never had Ethiopian food before.”

Open Tue and Thu 5.30pm-10.30pm; Wed and Fri-Sun noon-10.30pm.

328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 0421 009 519, sabashealthfoods.com.au

Source: Good Food
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