Yes, you read that right. Ethiopian food has arrived in Auckland. Café Abyssinia opened its doors several months ago and you could hear the collective rumble of delight from local foodies. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Dumpling Club members requested this for our next outing; several of our well-travelled members have eaten at Ethiopian restaurants in the US and Australia and raved about the cuisine.
Café Abyssinia is located in the new Tulja Centre at 190 Stoddard Road in Mt Roskill, a suburb known for its ethnic diversity. Tulja Centre has a stark, almost clinical look, punctuated by kitsch plastic trees festooned with fairy lights for flowers. It’s just so random; I can’t wait to come here in the evening to see them in their glory. The décor at Café Abyssinia is just as cheerful, luckily in a more elegant manner, and evokes the colours of the Ethiopian flag,.
The menu focuses on traditional fare, with 9 different (and variations of) mainly stews (wot) or sautéed (tibs) dishes, all served on enjera, a spongey sourdough flatbread. There is also a raw beef dish (reminiscent of tartare) called kifto. Most of the dishes are available at a special price of $10 for lunch, where you get 1 and a half massive enjera per person.
I especially love the whole ritual of it, the washing of hands, the serving of the food, and the coffee ceremony. A large ewer and basin is brought out and poured over the hands of the diners, and a hand towel offered. Note that if you come in a large group or if they are busy, this is skipped, which is a real shame.
The food is shared between diners. Pieces of enjera come in a large metal platter, and then the small dishes of meat or vegetables are poured onto the pancakes. To eat, you tear off segments of enjera, scoop or roll small amounts of side dishes and somehow try and pop this into your mouth without making a mess of things.
The vegetarian combo (yetsom beyaynetu) is my pick; you get stewed cabbage and carrot, and two spicy lentil dishes. Yehbeg alicha wot, stewed lamb with aromatics is tender and delicious. The lamb tibs were unfortunately chewy and rather bland compared to the doro wot, the spicy and tender, melt-off-the-bone chicken. I couldn’t get the hang of trying to tear off bits of hard boiled egg with the soft enjera.
To finish off your meal, you must try the Ethiopian coffee (a pot has enough for 5 servings, $11). The owners roast the beans themselves, to maintain the authenticity. The coffee comes in a earthenware pot (jebena) and poured into small cups. The slightly citrusy coffee is wonderful to sip as wafts of incense envelopes the table.
Tulja Centre, 190 Stoddard Road, Mt Roskill
Ph: 09- 620 5599
Tues – Sun: 10am – 9pm (Closed Mondays)