Ethiopian food is, hands down, my favourite cuisine. It has been a constant in my life for as far back as my cobwebby mind can remember, woven deep into the fabric of our family culture.
Throughout a childhood spent around the horn of Africa and Nairobi, we celebrated most special occasions gathered around a large communal tray spread with soft, sour rounds of injera bread, dollops of wat-aromatic meat sauces and vegetable stews plopped across its expanse.
We would feast, folding mouthfuls of meat and vegetables up with extra injera. Cutlery was never part of the magical equation. Using your fingers is where it is at to fully enjoy Ethiopian deliciousness.
It is such a bonus to live in a city where I can still get my Ethiopian dinner fix, especially on my birthday. Touted as ‘Canberra’s first Ethiopian restaurant’, Ethiopia Down Under in Pearce has been delighting Canberrans with traditional Ethiopian cuisine for as long as I have lived here. We dined there the very first weekend we arrived.
Siblings Abraham and Elsa create authentic flavours from Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The restaurant’s interior is uncomplicated. Tables draped with the white, hand-woven cotton cloths that are synonymous with Ethiopian culture, embroidered with distinctive geometric patterns. Gleaming glasses and cutlery grace each table, but if you are going to eat the traditional way, do away with the forks and spoons.
Of all the world’s cuisines, I have found Ethiopian the hardest to replicate at home, especially that soft spongy, sour and extremely addictive injera bread.
With many traditional dishes created from a base of clarified butter and an Ethiopian spice blend called berbere, expect fragrant, complex flavours. If you like to finish a meal with your mouth humming from the chilli hit, you have come to the right place. If spicy isn’t your thing, there are still plenty of delicious mild menu items.
What to order? For the most authentic Ethiopian dining experience, ask about the shared mesob dining option. Your meal will come out with the stews spread across a sharing tray of injera, in the traditional manner. You will need to stipulate that you want the meal to be served on the bed of injera as whenever I have ordered it, the injera always comes on the side.
During lockdown, we have enjoyed their takeaway. This is what we order … so much injera it’s embarrassing! I ordered 20 rounds of injera last time; we cannot get enough of it.
We get either two servings of lamb or goat tibbs. A ‘tibbs’ dish means the meal is pan-fried. I really like that at Ethiopia Down Under. The meat tibbs dishes include stir-fried fresh tomato, capsicum and onion. It is amazing.
If we are organised enough, we order a serving of Doro wat, which is probably Ethiopia’s most iconic dish. A wat is a stew with a rich sauce. Doro wat comprises chicken pieces and hard-boiled eggs in a luscious, onion-based sauce, aromatic with a kick of spicy heat. But if you want to order doro wat, you need to plan ahead and let the kitchen know two days in advance (unfortunately, we forgot to order ahead on our last visit).
We order two servings of the mild coconut chicken dish. To me, it tastes more coastal Swahili than Ethiopian, but it is scrumptious, and everyone enjoys it.
We get a double serve of the atkilt wat, a mild stew of potato, carrots, beans and cabbage. The kids especially love it. Ethiopia Down Under’s vegetarian dishes are also vegan.
Now that lockdown has lifted, Ethiopia Down Under is open again for dine-in customers while adhering to all ACT Health guidelines and precautions for both you and their staff’s safety. To book or make enquiries, contact Ethiopia Down Under on 02 6286 1659 after 5 pm.
Ethiopia Down Under is located at 1/70 Hodgson Crescent in Pearce. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 5:30 to 10 pm, and on Sunday from 6 pm. For more information, visit their website and check out their menu here.