Habesha’s communal dining brings people together
Ethiopian dining brings new meaning to having dinner served family style. With all the dishes arriving on one platter to be shared amongst your dinner companions, you’ll have to get over any notions you might have about what is “mine” or “yours.” There is a belief in Ethiopian cuisine that diners who eat off the same plate will not betray one another. So taking a dinner date or a new client out for Ethiopian food says more than you may realize.
With a trusted dinner companion in tow, I recently set out to give Habesha Restaurant a try. Formerly located in Hintonburg, this restaurant picked up and moved to Rideau Street. The two other Ethiopian restaurants just down the street beg for a direct comparison. The Horn of Africa is the least expensive, while the East African Restaurant has the best decor. I wondered, what’s different about Habesha?
It turns out it’s two things. Firstly, I’d argue that the taste of the food here is superior. Secondly, as the waiter so aptly pointed out, the texture of the food is different. The stews, or wats, sold here are a just a little more refined, and finer in texture. The meat dishes have bits of meat that have been chopped into much smaller dice or are minced; while the other Ethiopian joints in town tend to leave the meat in much larger (and chewier) pieces.
The combination platters here are a good value and provide lots of variety in the meal. It’s a smart one to order, particularly if it’s your first time eating Ethiopian cuisine. My date and I ordered the Habesha platter, which came with a variety of beef dishes and a spicy chicken and egg stew, called doro wat. The vegetarian platter was one of the better ones I’ve had, with garlicky collard greens, mild stewed cabbage and vegetables, green beans and carrots, stewed green lentils, red lentils spiked with berbere and gently seasoned yellow split peas. It was served with a simple tomato, cucumber and iceberg lettuce salad, which acted as a good palate cleanser between bites of wat. I scooped it all up happily with pieces of fresh injera, a kind of flat bread.
Habesha’s ambience is a bit on the clinical side. Its sparse decoration and cold overhead lighting don’t feel as welcoming as the staff. Though the atmosphere needs work, the food here is likely to bring me back again soon.
574 Rideau St.
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