Chances are you know of East Timor's troubled past, but do you know of its deliciousness? If not, take yourself to Coburg's newest café, a Pozible-funded operation run by four ex-peacekeepers where they're serving up traditional cakes, and on Saturdays, an Eastern Timorese lunch.
You're looking at a cuisine with strong Portuguese and Chinese influences, and that's a pretty delicious combination. A glass counter is packed with buttery Portuguese custard tartlets and dense, sticky wedges of cake topped with caramelised pineapple, cooked for the café by East Timorese expat Ana Saldanha.
There are also a few raw cakes, and normal café items on the menu here – fat toasties, muesli and big green kale, kiwi and passionfruit smoothies. But if you can, come for the Saturday lunch.
Here, plates of dumplings and pastries are all served with a tomato, mint and onion salad for $10 each. It’s like yum cha, East Timor-style. There’s a vegetarian version of each dish, and you can get a tasting platter for a bit of everything. We start with naan kabuar: pork mince and garlic mixed with crushed tapioca and deep-fried to make crisp-shelled bouncy balls. Risols are a sort of Portuguese empanada filled with shredded chicken (or tofu, mushrooms and bamboo for vegetarians), lemon zest and parsley and finished in a fried breadcrumb jacket. The dumplings are good too – glossy wontons hold a juicy pork, bamboo and mushroom mince, or there’s the crunchy deep fried pockets filled with chicken.
It’s also worth the trek to upper-Sydney Road just to sit and use the free wi-fi and hang out in the pretty, succulent-filled space, renovated by ex-soldiers Shannon French, Tom Mahon, Tom Potter and Cameron Wheelehen. We're definitely coming back for the coffee. What you’re drinking is the result of beans-gone-wild. Crops originally planted by the Portuguese were deserted when Indonesia invaded in the ‘70s. Left unchecked, a little inter-species breeding happened, creating the world’s only arabica-robusta hybrid. These guys buy all the beans they can get from the Aileu region, and sell them through their wholesale business, Wild Timor Coffee.
It's really is harvested in the wild, and processed quite rustically, but it makes for a really beautiful coffee: rich, bright and nutty. Get a bag to go or get Tom Kendell (ex-John Gorilla) to work it into a silky flat white. Did we mention they raise money here for projects in East Timor? Everybody wins. High fives all round, Coburg.