Konjo Cafe and Restaurant Footscray was the scene of an abundant Ethiopian Vegan Feast last night.
All part of the annual March Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF), an intimate gathering of about 25 people gathered into the cozy Konjo dining room, eyeing off the bubbling buffet pots with anticipation (and more than a few tummy rumbles).
One of the stellar things about heading to an MFWF event is experiencing cuisines, dishes and cultures that may not be part of your usual “go-to” options.
A family affair –
I’m no stranger to Ethiopian food, having lived 300 metres down the road from Konjo and the plethora of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Horn of African restaurants in the area.
The similarity that many of them share, is they are very much a family affair. When being welcomed to Konjo, the owners Rozenn and Abdul are obviously proud of their business and are keen to share Ethiopian traditions and food with a wider audience.
We were perusing the menu that promised a variety mild and spicy of lentil stews, salads, a tonne of mouth-watering vegetable dishes and traditional drinks like spiced tea when a smoking pan of roasting coffee beans was wafted over our table.
This traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is intended to ward off evil spirits and invite respect and friendship to the gathering.
The strong, but not unpleasant smell of coffee smoke invited a few giggles and a spark of delight in the guests, who were sipping their sweet traditional barley brew.
But where’s the meat?
Konjo is not a strictly vegan restaurant, however, they do host monthly vegan nights on the first Friday of every month. Ethiopian cuisine has a natural affinity with veganism, and they sure know how to make a vegetable sing in an unassuming looking stew!
Withholding any assumptions about the avocado salad entree would have been wise. The citrus and smoke-tinged berbere dressing was off the charts tasty!
I almost licked the bowl clean, before remembering I wasn’t actually in my family dining room and being an adult in public.
Oh injera, my love…
It’s been a long time since I wrote about injera bread, we’ve had a love affair since 2012.
Injera is practically cutlery for Ethiopian food. It is a flat risen sourdough (due to fermentation). It is springy, spongy, bubbly and delightful. Injera is the perfect conduit to carry and mop up the divine saucy stews of Ethiopian food.
Beetroot and potato, pumpkin and Chinese broccoli, spicy chickpea paste, cabbage in turmeric stews and more. There were at least 8 vats of fragrant stews, a neverending plate of injera, rice and some lovely fresh salads.
There was cutlery on the table. We didn’t use it, preferring to enjoy the meal the traditional way. Using the injera and our hands.
There were a few other guests that opted out of cutlery too, however, most utilised the knife and fork on offer. I did wonder if the cutlery wasn’t an option if they would choose to use their hands instead.
Our eyes were most definitely bigger than our stomachs, so a digestive spiced tea post main course was just what the absolutely stuffed stomach ordered.
The surprise final course –
It is a bit of a curse of an MFWF event that everyone is quite full by dessert. The appreciation of the final dish can be fleeting. I enjoyed the slice on offer, but it was the Ethiopian coffee that was a surprise highlight.
Like Steven Bradbury charging over the ice to take a win, the cup of Ethiopian espresso was the perfect ending to a meal.
“I’ll just have a sip”
I’m not a person that drinks coffee late at night, lest I stay awake for a week but this coffee is not bitter at all. It is robust but mild enough to enjoy sans sugar and I am actually kicking myself that I didn’t purchase some to take home. I downed the entire cup. Screw sleep.
Gives me a great excuse to go back. Thank you for having us Rozenn and Abdul, I’m keen to experience and learn more about your food and culture on my next visit.
You can still buy tickets to tonight’s (9th March) or next weekend (22nd and 23rd March) Feasts on the Melbourne Food and Wine website here.