If you missed it, I am on a mission to eat authentic food from every country in the world, right here in Toronto! You can find all past recaps here.
I am doing the two African countries together as the food is almost identical, which isn’t surprising as Ethiopia and Eritrea were the same country until the early 90s. I ate Ethiopian for the first time a couple of years ago, and I have to admit that I was surprised at how delicious and flavourful it was.
I don’t know what I expected, but for two of the world’s poorest countries that are known for food shortages and malnutrition, Ethiopia and Eritrea sure do have delicious food.
Toronto has many Ethiopian restaurants, and most of them seem to be concentrated on the Danforth or Bloor Street West. I have been to Lalibela on Bloor before (where that above photo is from) and had a really great experience, and I have heard that Nazareth, also on Bloor, is really, really good and very inexpensive (but pretty small and very busy). For the official eating the world adventure I ended up going to Pero, also on Bloor West, with Evan and our friends Emily and Corey.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere in there.
We were sitting by a window at the front, and it felt like we were sitting in a tent.
It was nearly empty on the evening we went (a Wednesday), so I think we got a lot of extra attention from our server, who was dressed in traditional Ethiopian garb (a white linen embroidered dress), and very knowledgeable. She would come by and chat with us often and did not mind answering our questions.
We definitely wanted to take part in the coffee ceremony, one of the biggest traditions in Ethiopian and Eritrean culture. An invitation to a coffee ceremony is considered a mark of friendship and respect, and is almost obligatory when hosting a visitor. It is apparently quite the ordeal and can take hours. I also read that less elaborate coffee ceremonies happen three times a day in most parts of Ethiopia.
First the coffee beans are roasted over hot coals, and once they are black and shiny they are brought over to the participants and the aromatic smoke is wafted towards them.
The beans are pungent and smell almost like strong popcorn. I love coffee and after smelling those beans I have never wanted a cup of it more!
The beans are then taken away to be ground with a mortar and pestle, and then boiled in a jebena, a pot made of pottery with a large round base, a neck and a pouring spout. While our coffee was being prepared, we ate. We started with appetizers, but I am not sure either of the ones we ordered are something you would actually get in Ethiopia or Eritrea.
We started with the veggie roll, which was corn, lentils, onion and other veggies rolled up in injera.
Injera is a spongy flatbread made of teff flour that is a staple in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. It actually serves as a utensil, as you pick up your food with it. The texture is weird at first, because when you look at it you think it would be similar to a tortilla but it is definitely softer and, well, spongier. I remember being a bit surprised the first time I tried it, and I think Evan, Emily and Corey were this time (none of them had tried Ethiopian before). It’s just different, but it grows on you. They all liked it. The flavour of those rolls was amazing.
We also ordered the E’kategha, which was crispy injera made into crackers, which came with some sort of lentil dip and spicy red berbere sauce (very popular in Ethiopia).
I have tried looking up E’kategha but I think it is specific to Pero and not actually a name for an Ethiopian/Eritrean dish. I am not sure if they would actually make the injera into crackers there, or if they just did that here to westernize it.
Both appetizers were good, but our main dishes were the best!
In Ethiopia and Eritrea, meat and vegetable sauces and dishes are commonly put on top of the injera, which is then used to pinch the dishes to transfer them into your mouth. You do not use utensils. The four of us ordered two platters for two, with the intent on sharing all the vegetable dishes.
Evan and I ordered the beef tibsi, chicken tibsi (tibsi is basically a simple meat or mushroom stew, sauteed or pan-fried), timitimo tsebhi (split lentil stew), split pea, and shero (chickpeas with berbere sauce), as well as the salad in the middle with an olive oil and vinegar-type dressing.
And our pals Emily and Corey…
also got the beef tibsi and chicken tibsi, with mushroom tibsi, cabbage with carrot, and hamli (cooked collard greens with onions, green peppers, garlic and ginger).
Everything was so full of flavour and so, so delicious. I mean it, everything. There was nothing we didn’t like. The chicken tibsi was seriously to die for and my favourite vegetable dishes were the mushrooms, lentils, and chickpeas. We polished off both of those platters, and by the end we were full and satisfied, but not in the gross I-just-ate-a-Big-Mac-and-I-feel-disgusting way. It was so good, and looking at it again right now I am really craving it!
Since you just tear off pieces of injera and scoop up your food with it (with your right hand, apparently you do not use your left in Ethiopia or Eritrea because your left hand is your bathroom hand), our hands were quite messy afterwards so our server brought a bowl of warm rosewater (with actual rose petals) for us to dip our hands into.
And then our coffee was ready!
I did not know this, but apparently it is rude to accept less than three cups of coffee during a coffee ceremony because the third cup is said to bestow a blessing. I think we all only had two. Whoops. It was very strong, and I really liked it.
Because the coffee ceremony is so long and peeps get hangry, food is usually served alongside the coffee, traditionally popcorn!
We shoved our faces with that until there was not a kernel left, as you do with popcorn (I can’t not do that with popcorn).
Our entire meal was a fantastic experience and I am glad we had Emily and Corey with us for it!
It was tricky getting Evan to stop eating popcorn long enough to get a decent picture. I have several versions of the following:
If you have an Ethiopian restaurant near you I highly recommend you check it out. That food is so, so good. BlogTO has an extensive list of the best Ethiopian restaurants in Toronto.