Abla Amad has served tradtional Lebanese food at Abla's in Carlton for the past 37 years. Here, she chats about how she's kept afloat - and sane - across four decades of service.
What's the inspiration behind the food at Abla's?
I cook what I learnt from my family in Lebanon. My mother and her brother taught me. We lived with him when we first moved to Australia, in a house that's on the same street as the restaurant is now.
Do you have a favourite dish?
The two that everyone loves so much are the chicken and rice, and the cabbage roll. For the chicken and rice you cook the meat first, put the rice on top and then add the stock from the chicken. The cabbage rolls are steamed fresh; they're filled with rice, minced lamb and pepper. You roll and roll them and add finely sliced garlic and a little bit of dried mint - it's beautiful.
You've been running Abla's for 37 years; what's the key to keeping a restaurant open, and successful, for so long?
Do everything from your heart and cook better than you do at home. I always do everything myself, with help from a couple of ladies who have both been at the restaurant for over 20 years. We don't serve anything that we prepared the day before. And if something's not perfect it doesn't go out to the table.
And what about the key to a good party, Abla?
Have a lot of finger food at the start and then serve a meal at the table. If you like to drink, have a beer, a whisky or a Lebanese arak.
Abla's, 109 Elgin St, Carlton, Vic, (03) 9347 0006, ablas.com.au