Monica “Nyalong” Claughton was born in South Sudan. She contracted polio very young, leaving her left arm permanently paralysed. As a woman and a person with a disability she faced life at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Some of her earliest memories are of being forced to work, unaided, in the kitchen.
More than 30 years later, though, her relationship with cooking has changed. She’s made peace with her past and serves African-inspired dishes at New Jerusalem – a restaurant she owns with her Australian-born husband, Daniel.
They opened New Jerusalem to help fund a refuge/orphanage in Aweil, the South Sudanese state where Monica was born. The aim is for the orphanage to be self-sustaining, and not reliant on charity. The idea is: instead of asking people to donate, why don’t they buy a meal?
The menu is rooted in South Sudanese cuisine; it takes hints from what’s eaten in countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, but has obvious Western influences. The food has big flavours and serves portions to match. Eight-hour slow-cooked osso bucco sits on a bed of semolina that’s similar to the North African staple asida. The 500-gram rib eye is slathered in blue-cheese sauce, which Monica says has a flavour profile like (but much tastier than) a fermented-cow-fat her mother used to make.
For dessert, there are luqaimat (fried dumplings), which have Arab origins. Monica gussies up the popular street food with sweet-and-sour lemon syrup, candied lemon and pistachios.
Before opening the couple road-tripped around the state for three months meeting local growers. They have one-on-one relationships with producers and growers such as Mike Kasprzak of Birdwood Venison, who delivers whole deer to the restaurant himself. Wines are from Piccadilly Valley producer Barratt Wines.
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