Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ethiopiques -- A Hidden Ethiopian Gem

One could almost miss the Ethiopiques Restaurant. It is on Church Street, behind the famous Ali Baba’s on Church and Dundas Streets. I found it accidentally one day, about three months ago, but the owner says this has been existing for more than eight months. It shows the point that it is so easy to miss the place.


Etiopiques Restaurant in Toronto
I went around nine pm, and there was no sign whether it was still open (as the photo indicates, they have since installed an OPEN sign), but I decided to try my luck. Yes, it was open. While the front door might give the feeling of a run-down restaurant, it is pretty elegant inside, with comfortable chairs, and nice lamps on the tables.

Traditional Lamp
The walls were full of framed photos of life in Africa (not sure whether they are from Ethiopia itself).
I could not detect any drinks specific to Ethiopia in menu, so it is all about food.
I ordered one portion of Sambusa.  
Sambusa, or samboosa, turns out is not just an Ethiopian speciality. It is eaten in many Arabic countries and in Somalia, as well as in many other parts of the world, though it has different identities in different parts of the world -- from somsa/samsa in Central Asia chamuca in the Lusophone regions. Of course, who does not know the Indian samosas, even though they are slightly different in shape.
 The four triangle-shaped deep-fried pies came in a colourful plate reminding me of the European kitchen style of the seventies.The sambusas were freshly fried and very crispy. Inside, the minced meat was tender along and the diced parsley tasted almost as if it was freshly packed and not fried.
It would have been nice to have some sort of sauce.

Main Course
I ordered the Meat Platter Sauces & Sautes.
The four-meat Meat Platter
It all came in a big plate. Laid on top of the large ingera was, from right, tibs (sautéed beef), minced beef, sautéed lamb, cottage cheese and then a sort of lamb stew. In the middle, of course, was the salad.
There were extra four ingeras, the Ethiopian flat bread (more like a very soft crepe) made from tef grain.
I ate the traditional way, using pieces of ingera to pick up pieces of the tibs or the sautéed minced meat. All with my fingers; no fork/spoon/knife.
 This is my first rendezvous with Ethiopian food, so I do not have anything to compare. But the dish was good. The different meats tasted differently from sautéed to saucy. One dish that stood out, at least for me, was the minced meat with a uniquely spicy taste.
The weakest, for me, was the lamb stew but then that is probably how it is made.

The Allure of Sweet Peppers
One feature I noticed was the use of sweet peppers (aka bell peppers/capsicum). Their use is become somewhat universal – from Chinese to Indian and now Ethiopian. I am not a big fan of it, mostly because it is almost stubborn in its refusal to fuse with the other ingredients in a dish, while standing out taste-wise.
This, then, means the taste of a dish becomes changed.
I have to say, though, that the Ethiopiques owners do say their culinary philosophy is “(R)ooted in tradition and inspired by the contemporary”. Sweet peppers is, after all, contemporary.
All in all, a pleasant experience. One other note: service was wonderful; particularly the second waitress (may be the owner?) was very friendly, and helped to select the dish/es.

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