If Ethiopia is one of the oldest locations of human existence known to scientists, then their food better be damn good.
I’ve been to the far north of Africa in Tangier, Morocco and to the very farthest tip of South Africa. But as of yet have missed out on all in between, including the eastern horn of Ethiopia. When friends were dining out for an authentic Ethiopian experience here in Brisbane, how could I not invite myself along?
Driving to Made in Africa Ethiopian Café and Restaurant in Moorooka, I was completely oblivious as to what to expect. While driving from Brisbane city center I was told that Moorooka was a suburb undergoing gentrification. I inquired about what they deemed to be a community with a need for such redevelopments. I could only scoff at the thought, despite high immigrant populations from the Middle East and Africa.
From my observation, Brisbane has a less culturally diverse population then other cities. Therefore gentrification is a concept I didn’t think existed here. I thought back to the organic-loving Jewish guy from Oregon I dated who lived in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn – also Jay-Z’s original hood. I was the only Caucasian person on the A train; let alone I needed to be escorted from the subway, and not because I’m dainty. He was the only white boy on the block with big dreams of opening a coffee shop at the cusp of the neighborhood reinventing itself, and he succeeded. Don’t talk to me about gentrification.
We found the small café-restaurant in a shopping center catering to other African restaurants, shoe shops and hair salons. My handsome and endearing friend walked his tall walk and claimed our reservation for 6 people upon entering. Aside from a table of three Sudanese regulars, we were the only customers on this Friday night. Reservations are recommended but not always necessary.
The place is no frills. A few cheap tables with plastic chairs, cheesy African decor, a painting of a topless black women on the wall, a map of Africa next to it, and some other trinkets tucked away in corners. Many of the mementos as well as spices and coffees are for sale through the sister company http://www.madeinafrica.com.au.
The menu, as thick as a wallet, gave the impression it was filled with pages upon pages of options. In reality it was one menu front and back; breakfast, lunch and dinner on one side, drinks on the other. The rest was filled with clear pages as a facade. The good news was options were limited and it was very cheap. We’ll have the lot!
The lovely host of an owner came to take our order, and we inquired about the handcrafted baskets nestled in the corners. We told him we wanted a traditional feast, and so he prepared a flat silver tray with the best on offer.
Sitting on top of injera (Ethiopian flat bread), was a beautiful spread of Alicha Wot (mild beef stew sauted in onion and turetic), Tibes Wot (diced lamb sautéed in herbed butter sauce and seasoned with onion, green pepper, rosemary), Keye Wot (beef simmered in a red pepper sauce with garlic and cardamom), Doro Wot (chicken stew in red hot pepper sauce with hard boiled eggs), Gomen Wot (collard greens boiled with garlic and onions), Shiro Wot (split pea stew made from roasted and ground split peas), Yatakilt Wot (vegetables in rich fresh green cabbage, carrot, potato, green pepper and onions, sauted in garlic and ginger) and Lentils Stew (lentils with cardamom and onion). The plate was enormous and we each used just our hands to dip the injera into the various thick stews.
The website, keeping to traditions states, “Normally you break a piece of Injera and roll it in the Wat and put it in your own mouth, but sometimes you may tear a piece off, roll it in the Wat and place it in you friends mouth!”
We didn’t feed each other, however ended the night after a few St. Georges beers with a traditional coffee pot (gebena) of the most aromatic coffee I’ve yet to taste.
The experience left me filled to the max, with an appreciation for a cuisine I’ve never thought to try. All for a very cheap price might I add. We didn’t know, and therefore missed out on the hand washing and coffee ceremonies that are also options, but at least we have something to look forward to next time.
I expected the injera (bread) to be sour, but it was delicious. We weren’t sure if they could cater for our gluten free friend, but they did with rice. And I looked over to my friend who also has a bit of hard time getting down the spicy options and I challenged him to challenge his spice as I do. A little practice in time creates a new appreciation.