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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Week of eats: The Abyssinian

After our short trip to Sydney, we returned to Melbourne with my in-laws, Annette and Terry in tow. Terry in particular really loves food, so I was keen to take them out for some good meals.

One evening we went to the Abyssinian – and because Terry is outrageously well travelled, he has actually eaten Abyssinian food before.... IN Abyssinia (what’s now known as Ethopia and Eritera). Well. At least Annette had never experienced it before!

The Abyssinian is a very popular restaurant that does food from the Horn of Africa, serving traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking. Every time we go there, it is always packed. We normally order the combination platter, but this time I decided that we should order dishes from the menu.

The Abyssinian

We had a couple of starters to whet our appetite (not that our appetites needed whetting!). We had the Melaznzany ($6.00), which were cubes of grilled eggplant that had been seasoned and marinated with fresh garlic, olive oil and chillies.

The Abyssinian

We also had the zucchini starter ($6.00), which was sautéed zucchini with a light, spicy berbere and tomato sauce that had been sprinkled with crushed chillies seeds.

(Note: berbere is a hot spice mixture that is a key ingredient in Ethiopian and Eritrean food. Injera is a sour, pancake like bread that is traditionally made of teff – a grain that isn’t available in Australia. At the Abyssinan it’s made with self raising flour, rice, red sorghum and corn flours. To make injera, the flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, before being baked into large pancakes. It comes out soft and spongey, with lots of air holes on one side.)

Both starters came with injera bread rolls. They were fantastic – spicy and packed with flavour. They were oily though. This is not a place that does diet food!

The Abyssinian

For mains, we ordered five dishes to share between us. A large platter of injera was brought out and the stews were tipped on top. The food is eaten by ripping off small pieces of injera and using the bread to pick up stew.

We had:

The Abyssinian

The shiro ($15) which was finely ground spiced chickpeas that had been cooked and simmered with olive oil and chopped garlic. Mhmm mhmm, check out that oil. I did say already that it's not diet food! It made for a spicy, nutty sauce, although I would have loved it if some pieces of chickpea had been left in for texture. This was served in a little pot, and we spooned the hot sauce spooned over the injera as we ate.

The Abyssinian

The dubba ($18) consisted of large cubes of pumpkin in a thick berbere sauce. This was great, rather spicy, with the pumpkin lending its usual sweetness.

The Abyssinian

The dorho kulwha ($18) was strips of chicken breast that had been marinated in ghee and African spices and sautéed. It was topped with pureed tomato and simmered in a light creamy sauce with turmeric.

The Abyssinian

My favourite dish of the night was the derek tibs ($18) – strips of marinated lamb that had been seasoned with spiced clarified butter, green chillies, onions and rosemary and then grilled on a hot pan. The meat was cooked until very dark – and almost burnt – which gave it a deep, almost bitter flavour. It was also very spicy, which I loved! To keep the meat hot, this was also served in a little pot, and we spooned some on to the injera as we ate. I also appreciated the fresh tomato that was a touch cooling against all the spiciness.

The Abyssinian

And last, we also ordered the goat on kemmam sauce ($20). The goat had been slow cooked with a tangy sauce made of lemon, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. The meat was tender in the moreish sauce.

We also ordered an extra serve of injera ($1) so we could keep mopping up the stews. The problem with having the stews directly on the injera is that the parts below get all soggy and hard to pick up. So extra injera was essential!

I really like the Abyssinian. The food is inexpensive, filling and flavoursome. If it's your first time, the combination platter is hard to beat, but otherwise I think ordering off the menu is the way to go.

Read about a previous visit to the Abyssinian here.

The Abyssinian
277 Racecourse Road, Flemington
Phone: (03) 9376 8754

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