Damera and Merkato: The Ethiopian Food Fix
As I’m half Ethiopian, I find that I can’t get by without a fix of some Ethiopian food (injera) every couple of weeks or so. I’m too lazy to cook it at home, so I always head to Damera in Goldhawk Road or Merkato off Caledonian Road with my (also half Ethiopian) Eating Buddy (whose recurring face you may have noticed in some of my posts). Neither of these restaurants are about style, it’s pretty much all about the food because these days it’s difficult to find an Ethiopian restaurant that hasn’t watered down its flavours to suit a Western palate.
I’ve always imagined Ethiopian food to be an acquired taste but I’ve taken some non Ethiopians here on occasion and they’ve loved it (or at least that’s what they’ve told me to my face, Lord knows what they’re saying behind my back). It’s a shared dining experience where everyone comes together around a large serving tray. There are a variety of dishes all brought together by the grey ‘pancake’ or ‘bread’, called injera which is what the dishes are both ladled onto and wrapped up with to eat. The thing about injera is that it’s not particularly photogenic, but the dishes are flavorsome, spicy and filling. You always leave the restaurant feeling like a bloated goat. I love it.
It’s difficult to describe the dishes as the majority of the ingredients cannot be purchased from your local supermarket, so I’m just going to point out a few. Below is quanta fifir (torn pieces of the injera mixed into a spicy red sauce along with pieces of dried beef) and awaze tibs (cubed beef cooked in a clarified Ethiopian butter that’s mixed with Ethiopian pepper powder).
Shiro (above) is a vegetarian sauce made from chickpea powder. My Eating Buddy’s obsessed with it, whereas I don’t see the point in ordering vegetarian food at a restaurant. Especially the heartwarming type that your mum easily makes at home. The white stuff you can see in the picture below (ayeb) is similar to cottage cheese but drier and is used as a kind of cooling agent to eat with the spicier dishes. When served with the buttery and spicy mince meat dish in the middle (kitfo), the cottage cheese is mixed in with ground spinach and clarified butter (YUMMY!), hence the green appearance.
And finally, seneg karia which are whole green chillies stuffed with spiced tomatoes and onions and are eaten on the side. These ones served at Merkato are not that authentic as they appear to have added mustard to the stuffing (?!).
I feel like this is one long teaching exercise, when all you need to know is that the food’s good. And that it needs to be finished off with a spicy, clove Ethiopian tea. Or Ethiopian beer.