As part of my African studies class ‘Nation and Nationalism’ we had the option of doing a review of a local African restaurant here in Ottawa. After doing some research, I decided to make a visit downtown and dragged some very willing friends to a restaurant called Horn of Africa, to sample some Ethiopian fare.
The Vegetarian Platter
Set up in a converted house and walking in to Horn of Africa has the same warmth about it that it is akin to walking into somebody's home. There was an African soap playing loudly on the television, and you got glimpses into the kitchen from the tables. Inside, the decorative style is both kitch and endearing and has a kind of a lost-in-time vibe, each table glass topped and table-clothed, with walls painted a bright yellow and decorated with various African relics and Ethiopian posters. All in all, the space is inviting and cosy, and as other people settled in around us for their own lunch, seemed spacious enough to comfortably accommodate everyone.
Although we all had our own preconceived ideas of Ethiopian food, none of us had really tried Ethiopian cuisine before. After studying the menus for a while, we decided that the best thing to do would be to eliminate any confusion from such a large selection by ordering two large platters - one vegetarian and one meat based plate between the 5 of us. Although the menu did look great with a huge selection of lentil, bean and meat curry style dishes, it was a little overwhelming, especially when we weren't so familiar with the food style.
Making a good start on the Abyssinian Platter
As long term readers of my blog will know, I always notice the presentation of food. So, when the dishes came out, I was excited to see that they looked really beautiful. Sitting on huge, tray-style plates, various thick stews, curries and mixtures had been artfully slopped into the plates, atop traditional Ethopian bread called Injera. The idea is that you use the bread to scoop up the sauces and meat on the trays.
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty excited to eat with my hands, and was surprised to find out that this method was actually quite foolproof and not as messy as one might assume. The bread was a kind of grey colour, and had a texture that was similar to a light, rubbery pancake. Although it sounds strange in description, it was plain enough to be complementary to the food, and tasty enough to enjoy by soaking up the dishes various sauces. I remember thinking that the texture of the bread is probably really important for the food style, becoming a kind of cutlery and meal component at the same time. A little google-ing after told me that this bread is actually full of iron and is a national dish of Ethipia and Eritrea.
The Chicken from the Abyssinian Platter
The food itself was good with a few unexpected surprises. My favourite was probably the Abesynian platter, made up of a combination of lamb, beef, chicken and vegetable dishes. They were sploshed about the platter in a myriad of earthly tones and various levels of spiciness. It also came with boiled eggs, and pieces of chicken drenched in mild sauce, which weren’t my favourites but were good to try. The vegetarian platter has several vegetable and lentil dishes dished out over the injera, but came piled high with a lettuce and tomato salad. The most popular for our table was the lentils and the lamb stew, which were my favourites too.
The boiled and marinated eggs from the Abyssinian platter
Before this meal, I'd had only had a brief experience with African food and was expecting a meal not so flavorful and perhaps even a little bland. However, all of the different was quite rich. The only issues I had was that, I like curry-style food to be really, really hot and there wasn’t any spicier option like chili sauce, but I think that’s probably just me.
We didn’t wipe our plates clean, probably because the bread was so filling but everyone left well and truly stuffed. Ethopian makes for great winter food, it’s warming and easy to eat. I’d recommend it to families looking for a different kind of meal experience and think the mild curries would be perfect for kids or those who don’t like too much of a spicy kick in their meals.
I was a big fan of sharing the two platters between the group of us. It was such an inclusive and communal style of eating which, in comparison to the cafateria style eating most of us do here, encourages conversation and forces you to interact with the people you’re sharing with. It only seems natural that I’d bring along my Australian family to eat together, which added to the experience of the meal.
The Abyssinian Platter before we destroyed it
In terms of service, it was a little on the sparse side, but the host welcomed us to a table and took our orders quickly. I could only ever see the one same man doing the hosting, waiting tables and cooking which was impressive and the food came out in about 20 minutes which was fine.
Cost-wise, this meal fit perfectly into the $20 budget, with each of us putting in $14.00 for lunch. I thought this was really reasonable, especially when we had probably spent that amount on coffee over the course of the morning. I’d definitely return, it’s such a neat way to eat and hang out with friends. The casual, yet intimate way of eating was my favorite part of the meal, I’d much prefer eating together off the same plate, it to a more formal style dinner.
As part of the class, we’ve talked about ethnic groups, defined as ‘a community of people who have the conviction that they have a common identity and common fate based on issues of origin, kinship ties, traditions, cultural uniqueness, a shared history and possibly a shared language.’ If I was living at home, in my own country, my own ethic group would probably be made up of my family and close friends, but being so far away from everyone, it seemed fitting that I bought with me my Australian friends to enjoy the experience with. Before moving here, I probably would never have understood what it is to identify as part of an ‘ethnic group’, but becoming a kind-of minority here really solidified the meaning of the term for me.
HORN OF AFRICA
362 RIDEAU STREET, BYWARD MARKET AREA (Just up from the ByTowne Cinema)
Open Daily, 11am - 11pm.
Good for: A new eating experience (no cutlery!), and perfect for groups looking to eat from share platters. As it's not too spicy or too bland, most people should be able to enjoy the food hereSeats: Although the restaurant isn't huge, customers should have plenty of seating options inside. Apparently they also have a patio that opens in the Summer time.
Vegetarians: Are very well catered for and won't have a problem.
Vegetarians: Are very well catered for and won't have a problem.
Vibe: Began as quiet, but the restaurant filled up during our lunch.
Wait time: There was not seating wait.
Food waiting time: Around 20 minutes which was fine.
Cost: I spent $14.00 in total, which was really good value for so much food.