Friday, January 27, 2006

injera or bust—ethiopian house

After a break through the fall, the Chowhound dining group resurrected their monthly nights out on Saturday. This time, Ethiopian House (Irwin & Yonge - between Bloor and Wellesley), which I've often enjoyed on my own. It's easy to find once you leave Yonge St - look for the traffic light on the second floor...which was right outside our table's window.

Go!Open the door and you're overwhelmed with a blast of incense and fresh-ground coffee. These form part of a "coffee ceremony" you can order, though our table passed due to a lack of coffee drinkers (at last, I'm not alone!)

Your taste for Ethiopian cuisine depends on how much you like injera, the bread the lines the serving dish. The best analogy to injera is a spongy sourdough crepe, with the bubbles of a crumpet. Injera makes Ethiopian meals look deceptive small, as your stomach fills which each piece. A plate of one or two extra pieces is usually provided, to provide a clean start as you scoop up the other dishes.

Until you reach the bits of injera soaked in whatever lay on top of them, eating with the bread as your utensil is not messy. I've seen odd looks when mentioning the lack of utensils, until I tell them that wolfing down a fully-loaded burger or eating sauce-soaked ribs or wings causes you to run to the wet naps sooner.

Ethiopian is not the speediest of cuisines. If dining by yourself, best bring that book you've put off reading for six months. If you're with a friend, have plenty of fodder for conversation - heck, turn the wait into an opportunity to learn all those remaining questions you have about each other.

Aib, Kifto, Tibs and Injera
We ordered several veggie and meat combination platters along with the weekend special, a chicken stew (shown here halfway through being devoured). Three huge platters arrived, none with the same dishes (some received more meat, others less). Even the three orders of chicken weren't the same - one recieved a bonus hard-boiled egg.

Despite the logistics, the food was very good. Most of the lentil stews were like milder Indian dishes, while the kale/collards combination melted in your mouth. The crumbled cheese was fresh. Tibs would make a good introduction to anyone leery of trying this cuisine, as Ethiopian House's version could be described as African fajitas (cubed beef, stir-fried peppers, occasional surprise burst of heat). The chicken was a tender leg, but pricey for what you received ($12).

I remember a friend at another restaurant who enjoyed kifto until I described what it was (depending on the restaurant, finely chopped, seasoned rare or raw beef). Guess who helped finish that part of their plate? Ethiopian House's version appeared to be heated, but maintained a slightly chewy texture.

Best bet: on your own, order either a vegetarian or meat combo platter ($12-13) and prepare to waddle out.

Review on the Chowhound Toronto board. - JB

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