4 June 2024

Africa Day deliciousness and Fekerte says goodbye: now where can we get our African food fix in Canberra?

| Michelle Taylor

The African high commissioners and ambassadors gathered before us. Photos: Kazuri Photography.

This past week began and ended with impactful events for Canberra’s African community.

May 25 is Africa Day, celebrating the diversity of the many cultures within the continent and the importance of fostering the shared strength and connection that they share. Here in Canberra, official Africa Day festivities were held at The Canberra Rex Hotel.

It was a celebration of the unity among the African nations and a recognition of African-Australian relationships.

My daughter and I felt honoured to attend the evening, where traditional dress was encouraged and worn with pride.

A plate from the Ethiopian pavilion. Photo: Kazuri Photography.

Vibrant drummers opened the proceedings and members of the diplomatic corps, representing at least 17 African nations, were in attendance.

Each nation hosted a pavilion showcasing its traditional food and drink. Tables burgeoned with every exotic dish imaginable: aromatic stews and delectable dishes in tureens, fried breads, satiny orbs of pounded cornmeal, plantain and semolina, and spiced pilaf.

With so much to choose from, we opted for familiarity first, filling our plates with the offerings of two countries I grew up in, Kenya and Ethiopia.

At the Ethiopian pavilion, a woven basket held rolled portions of its national bread: the soft, spongy, sour and extremely addictive injera. The chocolate-hued rolls were made from traditional tef flour! We topped the injera with the nation’s best-known stew, doro wat – chicken pieces and hard-boiled eggs in a luscious, onion-based sauce. Doro wat is aromatic with a kick of spicy heat. Several other stews filled the table, all made on a base of clarified butter and an Ethiopian spice blend called berbere, fragrant, complex flavours. Every mouthful brought us joy!

We were gobsmacked by the sheer breadth and range of food on show.

Kenyan food

Kenyan chapati, nyama choma, sikuma wiki and ugali. Photo: Kazuri Photography.

The Kenyan pavilion boasted national dishes that transported me back to childhood. Nyama Choma – roasted meat and ugali, Kenya’s maize-meal staple and a perfect vehicle for stews and gravies. We enjoyed sikumu wiki, a gently spiced stew of collard greens and tomato, made all the more special because the greens came fresh from my friend’s shamba (garden). We happily washed it all down with steaming cups of Swahili chai, sweet, hot and milky.

Dishes from other many other nations delighted and surprised us. The Sudanese pavilion had deep-fried discs of falafel, crunchy, golden and flatter than their Turkish counterparts, but so very flavoursome.

Sudan’s top dish for me was silken asida. Made from flour, butter and water, the asida’s smooth texture was lush, like a savoury crème brûlée and topped with two lush sauces. Delicious!

My dish of the evening was probably the simplest my tastebuds encountered, but as far as texture and flavour pairing, it was perfection. Zimbabwe’s sadza with tomato gravy. The texture of the ball of the sadza, pounded meal, was soft and pillowy. Like a stress ball you could eat! I tore bits off it and dragged it through the tomato gravy, and it took me back to so many happy memories. That gravy is made from only four ingredients: tomato, onions, salt and oil.

Sikumu wiki, a gently spiced stew of collard greens and tomato. Photo: Kazuri Photography.

The biggest takeaway of the night for us, what warmed our hearts even more than our bellies, was the hospitality and friendship we found standing around tables and breaking bread with people we’d only just met. United in our love for Africa, its food and exclaiming in delight over shared knowledge and memories of townships and locations. We experienced inclusion and true karibu (Swahili for welcome).

The second big event this week affects far more than the African community.

Fekerte, our beloved queen of Ethiopian cuisine, has officially retired and will no longer delight our taste buds with her injera bu wat. Thirty years of hospitality is a significant achievement. While she will miss all her wonderful customers, she is so ready to enjoy time off exploring her other interests and investing in grandma duty!

woman standing next to a bain marie

The legendary Fekerte Tesfaye of the beloved Fekerte’s Ethiopian. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

I dropped into New Acton on Friday to attend her informal farewell for family and friends after the shop closed for the final time. One of her kids remarked, “I still haven’t found good Ethiopian where I live. Mum is just an excellent cook!”

Yes, yes, she is, and I am blessed to have enjoyed her injera and stews for over 30 years.

Thank you for your incredible gift of Ethiopian cuisine and warm hospitality, Fekerte! Enjoy what comes next.

These bookend events to my week left me wondering: where can I go in Canberra to get East African, West African, or Central African food?

I don’t want to wait until next year’s Africa Day to taste that deliciousness and experience that camaraderie again. I don’t want to travel to another capital city for African food.

Are there African restaurants or home caterers that we need to know about?

Original Article published by Michelle Taylor on Riotact.

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