Despite so many food choices in Hong Kong, I think most of us can admit to sticking to the same things that we know and love. When was the last time you tried something really different? Have you ever tried Ethiopian food? I was lucky enough to try Eat Ethio on its very first pop-up dinner with Sook almost two years ago, and had ever since been determined to organise a dinner at Chef Helina’s private kitchen at her home in Sheung Wan.
If you remember, I mentioned in my write up of the Sook x Eat Ethio dinner that my father had long ago lived in Djibouti. He still raves about the Ethiopian food he used to eat, so I decided to time his latest visit with a dinner at Eat Ethio to take him on a trip down memory lane.
Helina and Scott’s flat is beautiful. It helps, of course, that Scott is a graphic designer, so there are quirky touches here and there that make you wish it were your home. At the moment, dinners are hosted on an ad hoc basis for a minimum of 10 people. Once the couple return from what I have no doubt will be a truly magical wedding in Ethiopia at the end of the month, they plan to regulate these dinners to give more foodies a chance to sample this exciting cuisine.
From the moment we came out of the lift at Eat Ethio’s headquarters, we could immediately smell a waft of incredible aromas. Helina has one of those kitchens one can only dream of having, with a huge island in the middle, allowing all the excited guests to eagerly watch her preparing the feast.
As we waited for everyone to arrive, sipping on wines we had brought ourselves (there’s no corkage on BYO), Helina presented us with some trays of homemade toasted Ambasha bread, topped with flaxseed spread, cherry tomatoes, rocket and radish. These little bites were insanely delicious and, had there been no one else there, I would have gladly eaten them all.
The menu, which was written in Ethiopian and English on the blackboard/front door, did not include the surprise dish that followed – split yellow lentil wot. I had tried this, or at least something similar at the Eat Ethio pop-up and was very happy to try it again. This dish is so wholesome and comforting, subtly spiced and warming to the core.
Next, came three very typical Ethiopian vegan dishes that are generally eaten during fasting periods, when Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are not allowed to eat any animal products: Berbere-spiced red split lentils, Gomen and Keysir. These three dishes are eaten with homemade injera bread, a gluten-free, soft, fermented flatbread made with teff, a superfood grain that is considered to be the next quinoa. Ethiopians use the injera in place of cutlery to pick up and eat their food.
Berbere is a staple Ethiopian blend of spices, including chilli, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, cumin, Ethiopian cardamom, cinnamon and more. It gave the lentils a beautiful flavour and a decent kick. The sautéed kale (gomen) and beetroot with carrots (keysir), whilst not spicy, were absolutely delicious and very moreish. Since everything was gluten-free, vegetarian and clean, I didn’t feel remotely guilty about going for seconds and thirds!
To follow came Kitfo, an Ethiopian-style steak tartare, topped with homemade ‘Ayib’ cheese, served on teff injera chips. There was a lovely contrast of textures and flavours going on and I enjoyed the prominent taste of the Ethiopian cardamom that came through.
The last of the main courses was the Doro Wot, a berbere-spiced chicken stew, or curry if you like. I loved this at the Eat Ethio pop-up and it was even better the second time. The chicken, having been slow-cooked for hours, fell off the bone at the slightest touch, was beautifully flavoured and nicely spiced. It came served with soft boiled egg and another type of homemade soft cheese, which added a yoghurty acidity that nicely balanced the flavours. Rather than being served with rice, this was served with more teff injera to mop up all the goodness. Beautiful.
Ethiopians take their coffee very seriously. They roast the coffee beans themselves, grind them, and then, often hours later, finally serve the coffee. Helina wanted to give us an idea of what the Ethiopian coffee experience is like, so she, too, roasted her single origin Ethiopian coffee beans over a hotplate behind our table, letting the aroma fill the room. Thankfully we weren’t waiting hours for dessert, but it was quite a slow process!
The coffee was served in little shot glasses alongside homemade popcorn ice cream, the idea being to pour the coffee over it like an affogato. I am not a big coffee drinker and need to take very milky baby steps before it becomes palatable so I can’t really be a judge of the coffee. Since I’m also off sugar for Lent, I can’t even judge the ice cream! My father, however, had two servings of both coffee and ice cream, and probably would have had three had he been offered, so I think it’s safe to say that dessert was a success.
Eat Ethio dinners are priced at $650 per person and, as mentioned previously, there is no corkage on wine. It’s always fun to step away from the norm and do something exciting and different; Eat Ethio without a doubt ticks both of those boxes.