By Alex Bielak
At its most fundamental level breaking bread draws us closer and offers insights into other cultures. Tearing injera, an Ethiopian flatbread, at Muya Restaurant was a welcoming introduction to the flavours and textures of this east African cuisine.
Prior to opening their eat-in operation about six months ago, Muya was primarily a bakery supplying injera to locations across southern Ontario, including Toronto. They began to offer a few dishes to take out and an adjacent storefront still serves in this capacity.
Muya’s website does not list opening hours, so we called and were assured they were open and no reservation was needed. On arrival, we entered the near-empty restaurant, and a customer went into the kitchen to alert the owner of our arrival. We were soon studying a menu portraying and describing the many stewed dishes available.
Unfamiliar with the names of the dishes, it was frankly a bit overwhelming, so on the advice of the chef’s wife, we opted for the Muya Ultimate Combination ($34.99). Enough for three hungry people, it provided an assortment of vegetarian and meat dishes, covering the spectrum of menu offerings, and was far better value than ordering a variety of individual dishes. We also got some locally-bottled hibiscus tea ($2.99) to drink.
That’s when things got interesting. A large round metal tray was quickly brought to the table, but no cutlery. A dozen small mounds of food rested in the tray on a large spongy flatbread. An Ethiopian staple, the crêpe-like injera is made with ancient grain flour, leavened with in-house sourdough. Five additional rolls rested at the periphery of the platter, and more in a basket. The hostess showed us how to tear strips of injera to pinch up portions of each stew with our right hands.
The stews were primarily vegetarian, but there was sufficient meat to satisfy an omnivore. Doro Wat (doro and wat being the words for chicken and stew respectively) occupied pride of place at the middle of the platter. Two tender chicken legs came in a dark sauce of butter, onions, garlic, herbs, and fresh ginger with a sprinkle of white cottage cheese. A key constituent of this dish is berbere, a peppy Ethiopian chili and spice blend that includes up to a dozen ingredients, and can take weeks to make. Lamb Tibs were pieces of meat cooked with various vegetables, spices, some rosemary and awaze sauce made with berbere and other ingredients. A beef stew was redolent of turmeric, garlic and pepper underscored with garlic and ginger. A hard-cooked egg also featured in the mix.
Vegetable stews abounded. There was Tekel Gomen, cabbage and potatoes, Fosolia, featuring green beans, carrots and onions sautéed in herbs, and Misir Alicha, lentils cooked with garlic, ginger and turmeric. Gomen — collard greens with garlic and spices, was a hit too. As we were coming to the end of our platter, observing to ourselves the food had cooled down quickly because of the platter’s large surface area, the hostess kindly bought out a steaming bowl of Shiro Wat for ourselves and an adjacent party to sample. The warm powdered chickpeas were again seasoned with berbere, warming things up.
Where: 215 Highland Rd W, Kitchener
Rating: 3 Forks
Hours: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Wheelchair accessibility: Yes
Atmosphere: The owners have done their best to make the plain restaurant feel homey with coffee pots on the wall behind the counter, and paintings and photographs depicting both the ancient and modern culture of Ethiopia, even going so far as to have art in the ceiling tiles. You may also experience a waft of incense, or freshly-roasted coffee, in the air, while Ethiopian music plays in the background.
Cuisine: Ethiopian cuisine, as authentic, and generous as it gets. Each dish offers a distinct taste and texture and both vegetarians and meat lovers are sure to find offerings to their taste.
Drinks: The restaurant is unlicensed. There is a selection of Laza hibiscus tea from Guelph, and various other non-alcoholic beverages. A highlight is coffee: it is served Ethiopian style to guests at their table or seated on small stools in a designated area of the restaurant.
Service: This is a family-run restaurant and the service was warm, generous and unpretentious.
The bill: $46.30 (including tax but not tip) for a large platter of stews that fed three happily, and as much injera as we needed, as well as two soft drinks.
In a nutshell: Unusual and tasty cuisine from the horn of Africa served up by truly hospitable, hard-working folk. While it might not be for everyone, those who try it are in for a treat.
Assessing food, atmosphere, service and prices, Dining Out restaurant reviews are based on anonymous visits to the establishments. Restaurants do not pay for any portion of the reviewer’s meal. Alex Bielak can be reached at www.twitter.com/alexbielak.