SABA AND THE CONCEPT OF COMMUNITY

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By Jo Rittey

 

Saba Alemayoh was born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents and immigrated to Australia 17 years ago. She is the owner of Saba’s Ethiopian Restauramt in Fitzroy and the newly opened Afro Hub in Carlton North. Jo Rittey chatted to her about her family, African food and the concept of community.

 

“My mum left Ethiopia when she was 17 years old. She was the youngest in the household and so hadn’t had to do much around the house. Then she went to Sudan and learned from other older Ethiopian women. That sort of culture still exists now where you call someone and say, “Hey I’m trying to cook this dish and I can’t make it,” and someone will come over and show you how to make it. They do a lot of sharing like that. She also worked as a maid in someone’s household and they taught them how to make Sudanese dishes. Sudanese food is a lot different to Ethiopian food because of the produce available to them. Ethiopian cuisine tends to consist of meat and legumes, rather than vegetables. The only starchy vegetable they use are potatoes, cabbage and carrots. My mum’s family were sustenance farmers and that’s generally what most northern Ethiopian farmers are, so they grew Chinese broccoli, chickpeas, corn, teff flour and then live beast they could kill for meat. But the Sudanese have more varieties of vegetables and fresh produce and dairy to work with. Afro Hub currently has an Ethiopian and Sudanese menu cooked by my mum.

 

  Saba’s was really easy. I feel as though all I did was open my mum’s house up to other people.”

 

At Saba and Afro Hub, I basically do everything the way I want things to be done; the way I want to be treated, the food I want to eat and hope there are enough people like me out there who will like it too. I think that helps with the genuineness of the interaction because you actually want to do things that way and it’s what you like yourself. Saba’s was really easy. I feel as though all I did was open my mum’s house up to other people. The way we serve it is the way I’d eat it, we don’t do cutlery. However, Afro Hub is as much an exploration for me as it is for anyone else. I think the continent as a whole has a lot to offer and I want to explore that with you. It’s not just food. We have music, comedy, art and handmade wares. There are a lot more moving parts to it.

 

 The Ethiopian dining experience is different to western dining. Ethiopians love hustle and bustle. They love running into people they know. They don’t really favour menus.”

 

The Ethiopian dining experience is different to western dining. Ethiopians love hustle and bustle. They love running into people they know. They don’t really favour menus. They’ll just come in and ask, what are you doing, what have you got? They like to sit at the same place and eat and talk for hours. They will come on their own and expect to meet all their friends; you meet your friend and then their friend comes along and before you know it, it’s a party. It’s an all day event.

 

We’ve tried to introduce the Ethiopian coffee ceremony to Australians at Saba’s. We’ve tried to tell people it’s not a rushed thing and tried to get them to relax for forty minutes, but we haven’t achieved any longer than that. It’s just a cultural attitude. I don’t really know why though because we’re fine with Sunday pub sessions in Australia, but sitting around drinking coffee for three hours just doesn’t work here.

 

 We need other people. We don’t like sitting on our own.”

 

Ethiopia doesn’t have a culture of sitting at home and watching television. It’s just not done. You do what you need to do at home and then you’re out. You go to your local café and you sit there. Why would you sit at home all cooped up? You’re going to go to the café and then your neighbour’s going to go there and if not, you’ll go to your neighbour’s house down the road and everyone will end up there. We need other people. We don’t like sitting on our own. It tends to be quite stressful actually for Ethiopian older people coming here and dealing with the concept of sitting in their homes alone. Individuality isn’t something we aspire to or like. I think being with others all the time helps with mental health as well.”

 

For Ethiopian dining, and to feel as though you are at Saba’s house, go to

Saba’s Ethiopian Restaurant

328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

www.sabasethiopianrestaurant.com

 

For an exploration of African culture through food, art, music and more, check out

Afro Hub

727 Nicholson Street, Carlton North

www.afrohub727.com.au

 

 

Jo is a French teacher, a freelance writer and needs good coffee to start her day. Armed with an exotic New Zealand accent and a winning (hopefully) smile, she likes nothing better than roaming the streets of the northside in search of new and old food-related wonders.

 

 

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