The starting point of great food is often in a humble market stall. Some of Sydney’s finest chefs and restaurateurs have honed their skills behind a stand, including O Tama Carey whose Lankan Filling Station made its start at Carriageworks. Donut Papi also cut its teeth selling doughnuts and custard-filled bombos at market pop-ups across the city, as did Alem’s House.
“We did the market circuit, serving Ethiopian food at Kings Cross, Marrickville and Berowra,” says Nethanet Assefa. She owns the recently-opened Camperdown cafe with her husband Nicholas Gilmore, her mum Alem – the cafe’s namesake – and her dad Assefa.
Alem’s House serves modern Ethiopian food. The menu sits comfortably in the Sydney cafe scene, welcoming influences from around the world.
Peer through the windows to see comfortable lounge seating, Ethiopian trinkets and a dramatic, vibrant mural by artist Camilla Carmody – a welcome respite on the busy Parramatta Road. At breakfast, dishes riff on contemporary Australian cafe food, but with Ethiopian flavours. There are chilli scrambled eggs with spiced Ethiopian butter; and teff (a type of ancient grain) pancakes, served with strawberries and macadamia nuts from Gilmore’s property in Byron Bay.
At lunch, the menu turns vegan and is more traditional. Lamb, goat, fish or chicken are swapped out for vegetables. Try the atakilt wat, a turmeric- and ginger-laced green bean and potato dish, or the spicy red lentil misr wat. Shiro, a chickpea stew, is made with a hard-to-find Ethiopian berbere chilli spice. “It’s quite a unique, creamy dish. It’s really delicious,” says Nethanet.
Each of these toppings are piled in little mounds, ready to be scooped up by hand, on top of injera– a tart flatbread that’s fermented over a few days. “We add the water to the teff and leave it sit for three days. Once it’s ready, it’s the consistency of pancake batter. We cook it in a pan and it comes out very spongey with lots of bubbles,” she says. “The injera absorbs all the flavours of the dishes you have on there.” Everything arrives in a colourful, round communal basket with a cone-shaped lid that’s typically used to transport food in Ethiopia.
“Ethiopian food is always shared in a group. I think it’s a beautiful thing. It makes you think about the person you’re dining with.”
Nethanet is just as proud of her coffee. “Coffee originated from Ethiopia and it’s a huge part of our culture,” she says.
At Alem’s House, they make the coffee on a La Pavoni machine. The usual brews, from short blacks to cappuccinos are available, beside Ethiopian coffees, which are spiced with cinnamon, cloves, chilli and korarima (smoked cardamom).
132–134 Parramatta Road, Camperdown
(02) 9857 4328
Thu to Sat 7am–3pm, 6pm–10pm