Saturday, October 08, 2005

Ethiopian Dining

Toronto is a marvelous city for trying foods and eating experiences from different countries.  For several years now, my husband and I have been trying to seek out as many unique dining opportunities, in as many different ethnic foods as we can find.  One that especially falls into this category is our attempt at dining Ethiopian style at Ethiopian House.

It was a briskly cold and windy evening when we arrived at Ethiopian House.  Luckily inside, the place was warm and toasty, with delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen.  The restaurant was decorated in vibrant cheery colours and the walls were full of African art and artifacts, including some stunning portraits of proud and majestic looking African women in full tribal garb.  

The menu is predominantly beef based, although there are vegetarian options, and on the weekend, there is a chicken based dish. We each ordered a combo meal consisting of two beef dishes.  Both orders came on a large communal platter covered with a brightly covered straw hat as a lid. The lid was removed to find small mounds of the beef dishes we each ordered. It is up to social etiquette to ensure you only eat from your share of the mounds. Or if you are eating with your husband, it takes vigilance to make sure he doesn't stray into your territory!

The first dish called Tibs consists of pan fried beef sautéed with onions, garlic, green peppers, tomatoes and awaze, a paste made from small hot red peppers, cardamom and cloves. The Kitfo Special consisted of steak tartar (a minced beef) with warm Ethiopian butter that has ginger, garlic, onions and spices added to it. The meat courses are served on top of a platter of injera, which is a flat crepe-like bread which is soft and spongy. In the middle of the platter was a mound of crumbled cottage cheese combined with shredded lettuce and tomato pieces, which helped to cut the heat of the spicy beef mixtures.

The unique part of this dining experience was the way the food is supposed to be consumed. There are no utensils on the table and you are not expected to use any. Ethiopian dining is done by eating with your hands. An extra bowl of the injera bread is brought with the platter. You rip off a bite-sized piece of the bread and use it to scoop up the beef, vegetables and cheese, and stuff it all into your mouth. The Ethiopian tradition is to only do this scooping with your right hand, even
if you are left handed. There are rumours about the reason for this right hand rule, involving the traditional use for the left hand, but I won't mention that here. Washing hands is required both before and after the meal for obvious reasons. This was a fun and unique dining experience, where you were engulfed in a foreign culture while eating food which was flavourful and tasty. It is also reassuring when trying out an ethnic restaurant to see it patronized by people of that ethnicity. This definitely seemed the case at this restaurant.

As it says on the sign outside the restaurant, Melkam Megib - Bon Appetite!

Ethiopian House
4 Irwin Ave (Yonge 2 blocks north of Wellesley)
416 923-5438

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