Nornie Bero is from Mer Island in the Torres Strait, where she grew up eating large communal meals. She’s the chef and owner of Mabu Mabu – a saying in the Torres Strait Islands which means “help yourself.” The cafe is her way of celebrating the dishes and native ingredients of her home.
Mabu Mabu began as a stall at the South Melbourne Market, selling sauces and condiments made from native ingredients, such as bush tomato seasoning, a desert-herb meat rub and pineapple hot sauce. Eventually Bero moved the business into the former home of Cobb Lane Bakery.
A bright teal door leads into the white-bricked interior, with timber accents in the banquette, seats and floating shelves that display Bero’s condiments alongside wares from other Indigenous-owned businesses.
A mural by Indigenous artist Charlotte Allingham along one wall shows three women laughing and having a good time over a meal: exactly the kind of experience Bero wants customers to have here.
On the menu, you might find Sop sop: a traditional meal of yams and taro braised in coconut milk, or namas – kingfish cured in coconut and lime, served with sesame and prawn crackers. More modern takes include kangaroo tail bourguignon slow-cooked with native thyme and pepperberries, and bush tacos with your choice of spiced emu, market fish or yams.
To drink there’s kombucha from Lore and non-alcoholic beer from Sobah (both Indigenous-owned businesses). There are also house-made teas flavoured with desert lime or hibiscus syrups, a nutty wattleseed latte and chai with pepperberry.