Last week while watching Top Chef Canada, Richard and I were surprised to see that so many very talented chefs – many of them from Toronto – were so intimidated by Ethiopian cuisine! Ethiopian is one of my favourite cuisines and I’ve cooked Ethiopian dishes at home with relative ease. I’ve had Ethiopian food at many different places in Toronto and abroad, but my favourite by far is Dukem Restaurant.
The atmosphere at Dukem is modest, but they’ve recently started showcasing local artists’ work on their walls and they’ve also re-vamped their menu to make it look more stylish. The staff are incredibly sweet and friendly and the owner, Mike, always greets us with a smile, remembers what we like, and comes by the table after the meal to chat and make sure that we enjoyed it.
Clockwise, starting from the top, we have: dry cottage cheese, kitfo (beef), awaze tibs (lamb), yatakilt wot (cabbage & carrots), yemsir wot (brown lentils), keyser and dinitch (beets & potatoes), misir alicha (green lentils), and yekik alicha (yellow lentils). In the middle there’s a salad that’s meant to cool your palate when you’ve eaten too much spice.
Kitfo is Ethiopia’s version of steak tartare. It’s ground finer than steak tartare and the resulting texture is somehow kind of fluffy, like a marshmallow, and it’s a bit spicier than steak tartare because it’s tossed into a pan with clarified butter and some Ethiopian spices for a minute to give it flavour. We have to specifically ask for them to make it rare for us because that’s how the Ethiopians eat it. If you don’t look Ethiopian they’ll usually cook it medium-well for you without asking.
The awaze tibs are my all time favourite Ethiopian dish. It’s a spicy lamb stew. The flavour is like nothing else I’ve ever had. The spicy awaze sauceis the star with a wonderful combination of chilies and a hint of cumin and coriander , but the flavour of the lamb still shines through with a little nip of ginger at the end. On the vegetarian side I usually enjoy the yellow lentils the most. They have a soft taste and texture that’s not very intense, which makes them a good compliment to the awaze tibs, and I just love their cheery colour.
The vegetarian options here can be a bit inconsistent. Sometimes it’s the amount of seasoning in the dish, and sometimes it’s the texture. For example, this time the yemsir wot was pureed into a paste whereas most other times it’s been only lightly mashed. I actually enjoyed it as a paste a lot more! There was more garlic and salt than there usually is and the texture was very different from everything else on the plate. You may not always know what to expect to turn up on your plate, but you can always expect it to be good.
My favourite restaurants are always the ones where food is shared among all of the guests at the table. It feels much more intimate than just ordering a dish for yourself, and Ethiopian food takes this to the next level because in addition to sharing your food you’re also digging in with your hands, which is an incredibly comforting and satisfying way to eat.
One of the best things about an Ethiopian meal is the fact that after you’ve eaten the food on top of the injera, you can also eat the injera itself! It soaks up all of the sauces of the food that was sitting on it and it’s sometimes just as good. The injera from the part of the plate that the awaze tibs were on always disappears in a flash because it’s so delicious. I like the the injera at Dukem isn’t as sour or as grainy as the injera that we’ve had elsewhere.
Something that you really should do (if you’re not eating at 10pm like we were) is the coffee ceremony. You can read more about it here. At Dukem they come out of the kitchen while you’re eating your dinner and shake a container of roasting beans in front of you to show you that they’re roasting your coffee fresh for you as you eat your meal. They serve the coffee with a stick of incense and a bowl of popcorn. I’ve done it before and the coffee is wonderful. You’d never think of pairing coffee with popcorn but it really works. It’s a wonderful experience.
950 Danforth Ave
Toronto, ON M4J