There are just over 1000 Ethiopians in Sydney, but Aaboll cafe is determined to bring them every one of their national dishes.
The menu, written half in Amharic script, is centred on injera, a sour, fermented pancake made with an ancient gluten-free flour made from a grass called teff. The nutritious flour is almost exclusively grown in the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands and those respective governments have had a longstanding ban on its export. Jarra Mamo, chef and co-owner of Aaboll Cafe, says teff flour is essential for the thick, spongey texture of injera, so even though it’s very difficult to acquire, she wouldn’t make injera without it.
A common Ethiopian dinner is based on a stack of injera topped with neat piles of stews and vegetables. Like Aaboll’s Ethiopian regulars, don’t bother with cutlery, just take a slither of injera from the stack and use it to wrap and soak up the ingredients on top. The favourite topping is a thick, curry-like stew made with nitter-kibbeh, an Ethiopian spiced butter. Aaboll Cafe makes its own with an imported spice mix and koseret, another ultra-rare Ethiopian ingredient that can be loosely described as a more pungent, stronger oregano. “That is the main secret in our cooking,” says Mamo. The doro-wot, a chicken and tomato-based wot that’s usually enjoyed at the end of Easter fasts, is thick and rich with nitter-kibbeh and several kilos of slow-cooked onions.
Aaboll Cafe’s menu mixes Ethiopia’s festive food with everyday, homey cuisine. Generally, the meat-based meals are reserved for special occasions while vegetable dishes are common in the home. Two of the most popular are shiro wot, a dhal-like mix of roasted ground peas and chickpeas, and misir wot, a spicy red-lentil stew with onion and paprika. During festivals and celebrations the food varies between Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups. The Gurage people, which Mamo’s mother belongs to, eat kitfo, a unique Ethiopian dish of raw minced beef that’s very briefly flamed and mixed with chili and cardamom, and served with spicy ricotta. Anyone who feels uncomfortable at the thought of raw meat can ask for their serving rare.
After any Ethiopian meal it’s traditional to have coffee. Aaboll takes this very seriously – every Saturday evening the restaurant hosts a coffee ceremony with a fresh pan roasting of Yirgacheffe green beans. Patrons watch the roasting ritual and get as many $2 espresso cups of intensely thick and rich black coffee as they want (bookings essential). While you get treacherously caffeinated, try some of Aaboll’s traditional coffee snacks, dabo kolo, little tear-shaped crunches of spicy fried dough and popcorn. You won’t find them on the menu though, but all you have to do is ask.
140 Merrylands Road, Merrylands
(02) 8840 9076
Mon to Wed 7am–8.30pm
Thu & Fri 7am–9.30pm
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve.