By BRYAN LAVERY
Dining at T.G.’s Addis Ababa is characterized by the ritual breaking of injera (the traditional yeast-risen flatbread which is spongy in texture, crèpe-like in appearance with sourdough tanginess) and sharing food from a communal platter signifying the bonds of loyalty and friendship. For more than a decade, T.G.’s Addis Ababa has offered a tour de force from the Ethiopian culinary repertoire. This is refined Ethiopian cooking.
The modest restaurant is tucked away off-the-beaten-track in an unassuming brick building the south side of Dundas Street, near the corner of Burwell and Maitland.
Having avoided the Eritrean – Ethiopian conflict in 1998, with little more than determination and a leap of faith, T.G. was eager to resettle her life in London. It was a tough route that included being detained in the United States for five months before she received refugee status in Canada. Initially, T.G. was employed at a variety of jobs; attending classes to expand her English at G.A. Wheable Centre for Adult Education and training to become a hair stylist. She dreamt of opening a restaurant. Her passion for cooking was ignited as a child; both her mother and grandmother were restaurateurs.
T.G. is pleased to make her home in London, “I chose to start my business in London, but more importantly, I chose to start my family here. It is a safe and welcoming community, and there is nowhere else I would rather build a future.”
Ethiopian cuisine has emerged as a significant international cuisine in recent times due to scholarly interest and the re- interpretation of complex regional culinary traditions to create and popularize an Ethiopian national cuisine by middle class Ethiopians in places of emigration and diaspora.
The cuisine has garnered repute for being blistering-hot, but truly authentic Ethiopian cuisine is characterised by a blending of flavours in order to produce a harmony of ingredients. T.G. is a skillful chef and her signature dishes from the repertoire of Ethiopian cookery comprise permutations of sweet, bitter, sour, salty, hot and fragrant. These flavour contrasts are the hallmark of T.G.’s cooking.
In recent times, T.G. had hoped to bring her youngest sister to Canada to help her with the demands and challenges of cooking a labour- intensive ethnic cuisine that requires specialized training. Initial approval was given to T.G.’s sister but because of her limited English there are still obstacles with the Canadian consulate in Ethiopia. T.G. hopes this will be resolved so that she will be able to spend more time with her young daughter. At present she would find it difficult and uncomfortable handing over the reins of her kitchen to an outsider. T.G. is acutely aware that there would be consequences to employing someone who is not culturally indoctrinated in the nuances of the cuisine.
Customarily made out of fermented tef, injera is used as both the serving platter and eating utensil. Decorum decrees tearing pieces of injera off with your right hand, pinching up and then wrapping it around the meat or wat, and then popping the injera into your mouth. No other utensils are required. Various dishes are placed decoratively and served directly onto the injera, allowing it to absorb individual flavours and spices. Dishes are always accompanied by additional injera to scoop up the food with.
Sharing a medley of delicious dishes that have been expertly arranged on a common platter — the traditional way to eat — is an enjoyable introduction to the cuisine. During a meal with friends or family, it is a common practice to feed others in the group with your right hand by putting the pinched up injera into another's mouth. This is called a gursha, and I have been told that the larger the gursha, the stronger the relationship or bond.
Berbere is the brick-red blend of 17 ground spices which is an essential ingredient in Ethiopian cooking and adds a fiery heat and stimulating boost to many of the dishes that reflect its national culinary identity.
Meat dishes fall mostly into two distinct categories: red stews (wat), which include berbere, and green stews (alicha wat), which do not. Wats are properly prepared with a generous amount of chopped onions, which the cook simmers or sautés in a pot. Onions are fried without oil, which gives them the distinct taste central to Ethiopian cuisine. T.G.’s menu includes several types of meat dishes, such as zsil zsil tibbs which are strips of beef sautéed with green onion and spices. Ethiopian cuisine does not include pork.
Another of her signature dishes is dulet kitfo, which consists of freshly minced, lean beef, mixed and cooked with clarified butter, onion, jalapeño and the traditional spice mixture mitmita (a dry chili blend containing ground cardamom seed, cloves and salt).
T.G. is a born communicator and guides the uninitiated to select from a menu that has been designed so you can order à la carte or eat communally. There is a large repertoire of vegetarian dishes, with a diversity of deftly spiced preparations based on lentils, split peas, chickpeas and other pulses.
It should be noted that Ethiopian culinary staples like injera and wat are immortalised as a metaphor for prosperity and security in the various writings of nineteenth century travellers. Hospitality is imperative in Ethiopia, and at T.G.’s Addis Ababa it is supreme.
T.G. is dedicated to supporting important cultural and charitable initiatives and events despite the fact that she is a hands-on owner who does all of the cooking at the restaurant. T.G.’s Addis Ababa has been a stalwart participant in the Taste for Life campaign to support the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.
T.G. supports the efforts of local student organizers at Brescia University during their annual Multicultural Show, as well as the London Black History Coordinating Committee. Last year, T.G. was selected as one of “I am London’s” successfully settled immigrants from various countries that have chosen London as their home.
465 Dundas Street (at Maitland)