I don’t know exactly why I decided to name this post Mama Africa. It just seemed right somehow.
Perhaps it’s because the food at Sunday’s East Africa Meetup was so fabulous that I want to cast off my Pol-Irish-Canadian identity and reconnect with my African roots, distant though they may be.
Perhaps it’s because I associate “Mama” with family and our record turnout of veg-minded folk game me a warm familial, “Yes, we can change the world through unbridled eating” kind of vibe.
Or perhaps it’s because I ate so much that I subsequently appeared to be several months pregnant.
Whatever the case, Sunday’s meetup was a roaring success. There were about 30 people, and local Ethiopian food expert Shaun confirmed that the food that day was particularly fine. Being an idiot, I forgot my camera, so I can’t provide any shots of it. That’s OK, though, because, frankly, Ethiopian food tastes a hell of a lot better than it looks.
Luckily, Shaun had his iphone handy and was able to take this shot of the group:
Note Neil and I with our contraband spoons. We bad! (Just kidding, they offered spoons to the injera-impaired)
In addition to the amazing food, the company was awesome and the conversation lively. I refused to break JJ out of prison, learned about Sudbury loons, shamelessly plugged the radio show Animal Voices (animalvoices.ca!) and scoffed at the folly that is flavoured beer.
I did make a bit of a faux pas when I told a pair of Sudburians that their city looks like the moon. But in my defense, I thought it was a compliment. Like getting to live in space but without having to spend a lot of money or learn math.
Anyway, not much else to say except thanks to all attendees for continuing to make the NCVA meetups a success. They just keep getting bigger and better! I guess this will be the last one of the year, but Green Earth’s monthly Sunday brunch is not far off…
On Sunday my partner and I visited the East African Restaurant to try out their all-you-can-eat vegetarian (actually, vegan) Ethiopian buffet. We were going for a long hike after, and wanted something that would give us a lasting source of energy.
For $8.99 per person, you really can’t go wrong. The buffet features a half dozen hot dishes, mostly lentils and vegetables in sauce ranging from mild to very spicy, as well as a few cold options. There was no shortage of injera. I filled my plate twice.
Only one of the options at the buffet is on the restaurant’s usual vegetarian platter, and I’ll admit that I missed the other two. But there were new options I’d never tried, including spiced zucchini, which was delicious.
The buffet runs seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. While NCVA members have a 10 per cent discount here, it does not apply to the buffet. But if you’re looking to fill up on the cheap, this is a good way to do it. We followed our meal with a two hour hike on some of Gatineau Park’s toughest trails, and were still satiated five hours later.
Is Ethiopian food the best vegetarian food you’ve never had? Quite possibly!
By Shaun Desjardins
We Ottawans are a fortunate bunch. No, not because we’re the shawarma capital of North America. We’re fortunate because we have not one, not two but FOUR Ethiopian restaurants in town. And guess what? They’re all GREAT!
Most large Canadian and American cities have one or two restaurants from the horn of Africa if they’re lucky.
Like many of you I had driven up and down Rideau Street countless times without seriously considering a meal at one of the three East African restaurants lining the street. (Ottawa’s fourth Ethiopian restaurant is Blue Nile on Gladstone)
Also like many of you I usually ended up spending my hard earned Canuck bucks at one of the seemingly dozens of Lebanese Restaurants in the area.
My infatuation with Ethiopian cuisine started about a year ago when I was bored with my usual rotation of restaurants and wanted to try something different.
My wife Amanda and I were meeting another couple for a sit-down meal in the market area and our friends being the good sports they are agreed to try out Ethiopian food with us at the East African Restaurant on Rideau Street. The rest, as they say, is history.
So you may ask, “Shaun–aka Ottawa’s self proclaimed Ethiopian cuisine expert–what’s so great about Ethiopian food and what’s the best Ethiopian restaurant in town?”
And I’d probably respond, “Well, fictitious person asking questions, the answers aren’t as complex as the flavour of perfectly balanced berbere, a staple spice blend in Ethiopian cooking. The reasons why I think Ethiopian cuisine is great are:
1. LOTS OF VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN OPTIONS
Ethiopians traditionally eat vegetarian more than 200 days a year which means that Ethiopian restaurants will have an abundance of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
2. A VARIETY OF FLAVOURS
East African cuisine also caters to the palates of spicy food lovers as well as those who don’t fancy needing a fire extinguisher table side. For example mesir wat (my favourite) is a red lentil stew made up of red lentils, onion, garlic, ginger and berbere spice is a delicious and SPICY stew while kik alicha (Amanda’s favourite) is a mild yellow split pea stew with some garlic, ginger and turmeric in there.
3. GREAT FOR SHARING
The wats are served on a large slightly sour crêpe type bread called injera which is placed in the centre of the table.
4. INEXPENSIVE AND EASY TO MAKE AT HOME
Ethiopian stews or wats as they are known are generally pretty easy to make at home and are SUPER easy on the wallet to boot! I buy my injera from either East African Restaurant or Habesha as it’s quite difficult and time consuming to make at home.
5. HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS
This is some seriously healthful food! Since these dishes are usually comprised of beans, lentils or legumes and spices you’re getting a bunch of fibre and complex carbs and that ever so important macro nutrient for vegetarians, protein.
6. FEWER DISHES TO CLEAN
When eating Ethiopian cuisine you break off a piece of injera and “scoop” up the stews or wats as they are known. Also, everyone eats from the same dish. No utensils and one plate mean fewer dishes to clean!
As for the best Ethiopian restaurant in Ottawa, there is no clear winner.
Seriously, I’ve had delicious food at all four of Ottawa’s restaurants. However, a special mention goes to East African Restaurant as they offer a 10 per cent discount to all NCVA members and they have an $8.99 Vegetarian lunch buffet from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. (seven days a week)
“Great Shaun,” you might say, “I’m sold on trying this supposedly scrumptious cuisine from eastern horn of the great continent of Africa but….WHAT DO I DO NEXT???”
Well luckily for you I’ve prepared a list with the answer to that very question!
Here’s what you do:
1. Pick one of Ottawa’s four Ethiopian restaurants
East African Restaurant (NCVA Members receive a 10% discount) 376 Rideau Street (613) 789-7397
The Horn of Africa 364 Rideau Street (613) 789-0025
Habesha 574 Rideau (613) 761-6120
Blue Nile Restaurant 577 Gladstone Avenue (613) 321-0774
2. Get some friends to come along with you. Remember, Ethiopian food is great for sharing!
3. Order the vegetarian combination plate (which is vegan) and enjoy!
4. Send the NCVA an email to thank us for introducing you to some of the most flavourful, healthful and just plain tasty food you’ve ever had.
I’ll be posting a few of my favourite tried and tested Ethiopian recipes in the coming weeks so stay tuned!