Injera and Spice

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March 6, 2010 by bethanjthomas

I should admit that I have a reason to try to like African food, as my boyfriend works in and out of Ethiopia and I’ll be spending 5 weeks in Addis Ababa over Christmas this year.  However, I rarely eat Moroccan, Eritreian, Ethiopian, South African, Libyan or any other African food.

The aforementioned boyfriend will say its simply because African food isn’t as appealing as Asian food and has a high likelihood of disagreeing with your stomach.   It’s certainly true that when I have a choice of food to eat out, the Asian continent is my first pick simply for the range and diversity of flavours and ingredients.  In contrast, I associate African food with large quantities of meat, little vegetables and relatively dry tastes.

So it came as some what of a shock to find myself in a tiny Eritreian restaurant in Brixton last night.  It was a combination of me having eaten out at a Chinese, Korean and Indian restaurant earlier in the week and my dinner partner being charmed by a girl who liked the restaurant.

Asmara smelt amazing – a mix of frankincense and coffee beans and we had good feelings about what we were about to dig into.

The charming girl had recommended the lentil spicy soup and the set meat platter for two to share, so that’s what we ordered.  Our gorgeous motherly waitress suggested getting a vegetable soup and a lentil soup for a bit of variety, and we went for it.

Delicious spicy lentil soup - tasted like a biryani!

Spicy lentil soup and vegetable soup

The lentil soup was fantastic and by far my favourite, it was full of rice and lentils, making it thick and wholesome, slightly spiced to make it taste a lot like a biryani!  The vegetable soup was by no means bad, but it was thinner and less filling that the lentil version.  On a cold Spring day, the lentil soup was so satisfying- the perfect start to the meal.

The next plate that came out was a wonder to see…a huge platter covered with injera – a spongey pancake which reminded us of the vegan delights we’d made a few weeks earlier.  Our delightful grandmother of a waitress came and presented us with a variety of meats and vegetables to eat with the injera – lamb stew, spiced mince, chicken legs, roasted vegetables, boiled egg in a paprika style sauce…they just kept coming!

Injera, lamb stew, vegetables, spiced mice and may more!

Injera, lamb stew, vegetables, spiced mice and may more!

The highlight of the meal came when we were shown how to use the injera to eat the meat, wrapping the pancake around the food.  The example piece was shovelled by hand into Henrik’s mouth by our waitress, who chuckled as she walked away…if only I had been able to get a photo, it would have been priceless.

Mastering the injera technique

Mastering the injera technique

The mix of flavours and textures was great, and when the injera soaked up the juices from the stews it had a wonderful flavour.  However, half way through eating the platter I was slightly bored of the tastes.  Perhaps if I had picked my own meats and chosen more spiced options, it may have held my interest for longer, but it felt a little repetitive after a while.

Freshly roasted and smoking coffee beans were paraded around the restaurant as we finished up our platter by a man who looked like Lionel Richie in his 1980s hey-day.  It didn’t quite beat the force feeding incident for entertainment, but it was great.

Overall, the restaurant and the food were great.  Unlike South East Asian food, I wouldn’t want to eat it every day, but it was a great experience and I’d go back without a doubt.  The service in particular made the food even more enjoyable, and once the restaurant was full it was a lovely place to spend a few hours.

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