Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dinner in Eritrea

International flags represent students at a local school

Canada has the highest per capital immigration rate in the world and is known as a diverse and multicultural nation. The last census showed that approximately 1 in 5 Canadians were born in another country (including me). Some will argue that this a bad thing, but immigration is nothing new. My husband's family immigrated here in 1800 and my father's family came from Holland and England in the 1920's. Many came from Eastern and Western Europe after the World Wars and we welcomed the "boat people" from Vietnam in the 1970's. Our city has a German/Mennonite heritage but we also have neighbourhoods with people from Central America, Africa, the Philippines, China, India and a host of other nations. Even when immigrants try to maintain their culture in a new land, their children quickly become integrated as they learn English and go to public schools. Locally, the Old Order Mennonites are the main group who have resisted this integration and have held to their traditions in work, family life, religion and education.

A.M. Africa, formerly Rockway Fish and Chips

For those who are unable to travel around the world, immigration has given an opportunity to experience other cultures in our own back yard so to speak. I can visit Chinatown and Greek Town in Toronto and can participate a number of cultural events throughout the year such as Chinese New Year festivities this past weekend. We particularly enjoy the variety of ethnic restaurants in our area.

When my husband was growing up it was a Friday family tradition to go grocery shopping in the afternoon and then head to Rockway Fish and Chips for supper. This small diner, open for many years, was locally famous for its large portions of fish and fries and its unchanged 1950's decor. It closed in early 2008 when the owner retired and recently reopened as A.M. Africa with new owners from Eritrea in East Africa. They kept the fish and chip menu and have added a new menu of authentic African dishes.

The Becka and I went there on a very cold evening last week. We were warmed with pots of hot African and Chai tea while we waited for our food to be prepared with fresh ingredients. I have copied the following from the restaurant's web site.

"Africa's dishes are based on vegetables and meats subtly or robustly seasoned with a rich variety of native herbs and peppers to bring out natural flavours. Careful and skillful food preparation and service enhance your dining pleasure. These hearty dishes are distinctive for their use of berbere, a favourite seasoning based on red peppers.

Berbere is combined with either kebbeh (herb butter and onions), or other spices, to give these dishes an unforgettable flavour. Diners eat using fingers and pieces of the traditional bread injera to wrap morsels of food for consumption. The breaking of bread together takes on a strong social significance. It is essential to building and maintaining friendships."

We ordered the vegetarian platter which came with roasted lentils, cooked cabbage, mixed vegetables and salad, all wonderfully seasoned and served in mounds on two large rounds of injera. This crepe-like bread is made with teff, a tiny gluten free grain that is ground and allowed to ferment with yeast, much like our sourdough bread is made. Its spongy texture was perfect for picking up the stewed and roasted vegetables.

This was a large platter, not a dinner plate and we could not finish all the food as it was very filling. We both decided this is a place where a new family tradition could be started, perhaps not every week but maybe once a month. This is not a fast food outlet and time is required to go through the menu, wait for the freshly made food and eat it at a leisurely pace.

Isn't that the way dinner is supposed to be?

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  1. It is most interesting to learn about other cultures.Having grown up in a simple mennonite home we were not exposed to many varieties of food.I am not the most adventureous with food but do love to hear what others eat and how the food is prepared.

  2. Well, this is a new one for me--an Eritrean restaurant. Most interesting.
    I am one who thinks immigrants enrich us. Heavens, if we disapproved of immigrants we would ALL have to "go home."

  3. How neat that you have such experiences waiting for you outside your door Ruth! Thanks for taking us along. :c)

  4. Great post. I think one of the best ways to experience other cultures is through food. Your vegetarian dish sounds devine!

  5. Anonymous8:12 am GMT-5

    Very interesting! You are much braver then me to try new foods. The plate looks delicious. The bread looks like a crepe with lots of air bubbles. I have tried gluten free bread and it's certainly not my favorite. I wonder did it taste like a gluten free bread you can buy in a grocery store?

    That cup of tea looks very warm and inviting. Especially since I just can in from a walk at -26°C.

    I have heard of several other people that made Friday Fish and Chips from Rockway a family tradition. Sure must have been a busy little store in it's days. I wish that I had made a visit to it before it closed up.

  6. Sounds like a wonderful place to go ... a place I'd like to try out!

  7. I agree...that is the way dinner out is supposed to be. I love trying new ethnic dishes and this one really looks good.

  8. Ruth,

    The food looks absolutely delicious. Hopefully one day I can try it. I'm always looking for something different.

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed my visit. Stay safe and warm.


  9. Sounds delicious. I rarely get into Toronto but you are tempting me. ;-)

  10. I love how Cosmopolitan Canada is. My husband and I were married in Winnipeg and returned there last summer for our anniversary. We loved the different sections of the city for different ethnic groups.I can only imagine how much more Toronto would be like that. The food looks fantastic!

  11. In the US, as in Canada, only the Native Americans are truly native for more than a few centuries. The rest of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants.
    The African restaurant looks interesting. I'd like to give it a try.

  12. Anonymous3:56 pm GMT-5

    We have the same thing here in the Bay Area. It's really an education eating other culture's cuisine. Eritrean/Ethiopian is one cuisine my hubs and I love to enjoy every now and then. Of course injera must be there and extra order of it :D Great post.

  13. Ah Good food, cant beat it.great shots.

  14. I'd be on the veggie option. I miss choices of food on this island of mine. Some cultures but not to the extent most places have now.

  15. Great post as always Ruth, thanks for sharing.

    Regina In Pictures

  16. You are lucky to have so much cultural diversity in your home city, it looks wonderful.

  17. Ruth, that sounds like a great place to go for a meal.
    We just had a delicious Thai dinner on the way home. Since out temperature passed 43C today, it was nice not to have to cook.

  18. You're so right, food is to be enjoyed, not rushed. That meal looks delicious.

  19. Anonymous8:57 pm GMT-5

    You are so lucky - I love Ethiopian food, and it's hard to find outside of major cities. This looks and sounds yummy!

  20. Interesting, am from the Philippines and i have 2 friends that migrated there in CAnada. They are happy there and as I read your post, it somehow confirmed the reasons. Anyway, I haven't seen any African food and with your pic and story, it seems interesting. :) hopefully, i can try it someday.

  21. Even in our small town of Powell River there are immigrants from many countries. Several have opened restaurants where we can share in their customs and foods. My husband and I are recent immigrants ourselves, but we have only come from south of the border. - Margy

  22. I like to try all kinds of food but when I eat garlic, my wife lets me know that she does not approve. And I thought the United States was the winner in the melting pot category.-Our country's image is really going down the tubes-I hope we can make a comeback.


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