Bringing authentic Ethiopian cuisine to Ballarat means Temam Hussen is surrounded by the smells and tastes of his childhood.
The former teacher opened Cafe Merkama on Doveton Street four years ago to share his culture and a part of his identity with Ballarat.
“When you grow up in Ethiopia you don’t even go to the kitchen, it’s a girl’s job,” Mr Hussen said.
“I learnt cooking when I was in refugee camp. When you are a refugee no one is going to feed you, you have to do it yourself.”
With help from the Ethiopian women, Mr Hussen made the most of the ingredients available in the camp.
He later learnt more about cooking from his sister while living in Melbourne.
After spending six years in the refugee camp, Mr Hussen arrived in Melbourne in 1989. He then moved to Tasmania in 2006 for five years before ending up in Ballarat.
“I’d had enough of Tasmania,” Mr Hussen said.
“My partner is a country girl who was born in Colac. She went to school in Ballarat so she wanted to move here if we moved to the mainland.”
The location was a happy medium for the couple, who has five children, with Mr Hussen just a one hour drive from family members in Melbourne.
Although Mr Hussen admits it was a rocky start.
“I used to hate it,” he said.
“The first year I used to hate the winter, I never knew Ballarat was cold – colder than where I was in Tasmania.”
It was his friends who encouraged him to open the Ethiopian-themed cafe and he soon found himself happiest either in the kitchen or making friends with the customers.
“I started thinking, people if they taste this food I know they will love it,” he said.
“But it was scary in the first week when I was opening, there is a lot of things you have to pay for (such as) rent.”
Mr Hussen can recall in the early days spotting people walk past and peek through the windows wondering what was cooking.
He said Ballarat’s young people were the most adventurous.
“They come in, they have lunch, they loved it,” Mr Hussen said.
“After that it’s history, they start telling their parents and they jumped on Facebook, their friends start coming.”
The cafe has also offered Mr Hussen a chance to change perceptions.
“The only thing people think is they (Ethiopians) don’t have food,” he said.
“So I’m happy to show what kind of food we can cook and (it is) the healthiest.”
While Ballarat has expanded its cultural tastes since Cafe Merkama opened, Mr Hussen hoped to see further growth in the city with the increasing population.
For more information on Committee for Ballarat’s More than Gold campaign search @morethangold.ballaratstories on social media.