Alexia was introduced to this new restaurant in the course of doing some research for the Herald, and I volunteered to check it out over lunch with a friend.
Café Abyssinia is located at the rear of a new mall on Stoddard Road and is the creation of husband and wife team Kagnew Tessema and Bebeta Asfaw. The brightly decorated café had several Ethiopian clients, so the outlook for an authentic food experience was looking good. The café also stocks the usual muffins, cakes and slices, but we were there for the more traditional offerings.
The menu items have Ethiopian titles but are described in English. Kagnew was very helpful and gave us much-needed advice on our selections. We opted for the Doro Wot ($15 large/$10 small lunch), described as chicken marinated in fresh lime juice and simmered with various spices. We also ordered the combination meal ($17 large/$10 small lunch), which was served on enjera, the fermented flat bread. This meal included Kitfo (the Ethiopian version of steak tartare), Yebeg Alicha Wot (sautéed lamb pieces), Menchit Abish (slow-cooked pieces of lamb with green chili), Atkelet Alicha (slow cooked vegetable stew) and more of the Doro Wot chicken dish.
Most of the dishes include the Ethiopian spice mixture, berbere. This is a rich and almost earthy spice mixture. As well as being included as an ingredient in the dishes, a small dish of the spicey sauce accompanied our lunch dishes. Wot dishes are spicy stews which include berbere while Alichas are milder stews.
Kagnew presented our meals, turning the dishes of food directly onto the enjera bread. Our authentic food experience started – we ate with our fingers – no utensils in sight. There is definitely a knack to tearing off the enjera scooping up the food – one that I did not quite master first time!
My favourite dish was the Doro Wot chicken. The meat was tender and tasty in a berbere sauce and included a hard-boiled egg. I was slightly cautious about the mince dish, but it was fine. The coarse-textured mince (traditionally chopped by hand) had been lightly cooked and was rich due to the inclusion of herbal butter. Of the two lamb dishes I preferred the Yebeg Alicha Wot, which had the flavours of the berbere sauce.
We noticed that other clients were being served another combination plate of vegetarian dishes, which Kagnew explained were for people who were fasting. Most Ethiopians are Orthodox or Coptic Christians and frequently include one or two fast days each week. Fasting or not the vegetarian meal looked delicious and would make any vegetarian happy.
The Café also offers the traditional coffee ceremony, which is a unique experience for coffee lovers.
Café Abyssinia is a most welcome addition to the evolving Auckland food scene. There is literally a world of cuisines to discover and Café Abyssinia helps us along this food journey