One of the nice things about living in Delhi is that it’s a cultural smorgasbord of various foods, people and events. With a line of embassies, all you have to do is know the right people (or be a member in some cases), and you could be eating steak in Australia, pizza in Italy, kimchi in Korea or closer home, just stroll into Andhra Pradesh or Assam for lunch. And yesterday, we went to Ethiopia, a little restaurant in a little cultural centre, filled with locals, but we weren’t the only Indians.
The Queen Of Denial
Blue Nile is the restaurant at the two month old Ethiopian Cultural Centre. We’ve experimented with West African food before, and came out of that experience a little bit scarred, but our dining companion had eaten Ethiopian food in New Jersey and raved about it on our ride there. The restaurant is well lit and slightly sterile looking, with glass-topped tables and a selection of spice under the glass, much like an Indian “family” restaurant. We were even offered a choice of Ethiopian or Indian food by the all-Indian wait staff.
But it got exotic again very quickly. The items on the menu are not very well described next to their foreign names, so we picked at random. Yebgg Firfir (mutton and chilli sauce mixed with injera), Beyaynetu (a mixed vegetable platter containing most of the vegetarian section) and Injera (described as flat sour dough, which instantly made both of us think of pita bread.)
Beyaynetu came first — a small selection of vegetarian dishes served on top of the Injera on a large plate to share. The Injera is like a dosa, fermented and crepe like, and you and your dining companion have to essentially tear it off the bottom of the plate and use it to mop up the toppings. These included Tikil Gommen Alicha (cabbage with potato, garlic, turmeric), which was a bit blah, bright yellow but not very flavourful; Fosolia Bekarrot (green beans and carrots), like a steak side dish, whole boiled and harmless; Shiro Wet (peas powder in special spice), mushy and grainy at the same time, this was unexpectedly good: tangy, lightly spiced and unlike anything we’d tasted before. Then there were two types of lentils — Defen Mesir (black) and Missir Kik (red), out of which we far preferred the red, even though they were both cooked exactly the same way.
There was also something we couldn’t identify — a red gravy with an over spiced pakoda in the middle of it—which we later realised was Shimbira Aasa (chick peas with chilli sauce), but the chilli didn’t sit right, discordant and out of sorts and after a nibble, we had to leave the pakoda to its own devices.
End your meal in the "coffee room" where coffee is served on low couches with a side of cold popcorn.
The meat came wrapped up in Injera instead of on a thaali, and when we unwrapped it, we saw more Injera cooked with the meat. To avoid a carb overload, we just took spoons and ate the inside filling. Deliciously tender, with not at all too much spice, the chilli and salt at perfect balance, this was our favourite part of the meal, but we wish there had been more meat in the meat to Injera ratio.
We ended with Ethiopian coffee, which you can choose to have right where you are or in the coffee room—and we’d suggest you go to the coffee room. Shaped like a hut with a sloping bamboo roof and low couches, it’s fun to sit there and watch the waiter prepare the coffee. There’s a long complicated ritual involving Ethiopians and coffee and ours was served to us in little handle-less china cups, sugar and no milk, with cold popcorn on the side. There is alcohol to be had as well—your basic vodka, rum, beer—but if you can only drink one thing, we suggest the coffee.
After, the waiter took us to the museum, essentially a display section for a travel agency, and we looked around the pretty fairy-lit garden. Unlike the 567 African Corner this wasn’t so much about making homesick expats happy, it was more like a gentle introduction to Ethiopia, and it worked, because that’s where our next holiday will be, our friend and us both decided.
Getting there: 7/50 G Niti Marg, near Nehru Park, Chanakya Puri, call 24673654, Rs 1,000 for a meal for two without alcohol.
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