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Torrent de les Flors 55 Barcelona, Spain Tel. 93 213 0785
Torrent de les Flors 55
Tel. 93 213 0785
It’s a cliché that the authenticity of an ethnic restaurant can be measured by the number of diners of said ethnicity eating in it. The problem with using this measure for Ethiopian restaurant Abissinia is that most of the Ethiopians in Barcelona are also the members of the Gebreyesus family who run this bright, open and welcoming restaurant.
The recipes on Abissinia’s menu are thousands of years old, and have been passed down from generation to generation. They may be casero, and seem quite simple at first glance, but a lot of effort goes into their preparation. Most are types of wot or stew, which can require up to six hours’ cooking time. The base of these should be familiar to local diners—a sauce of slow-cooked onions, rather like a Catalan sofregit. This is spiced with a chili sauce (berbere). To each dish is then added a range of up to 25 different Ethiopian spices. The berbere, spices and other authentic ingredients are shipped to Barcelona by family members back in Ethiopia. Other ingredients don’t have so many food miles but are sourced with just as much care, such as the traditionally reared beef and chicken from Girona.
It’s not just the food that’s authentic, even the furniture and service is Ethiopian-style. Diners sit on low stools at hourglass-shaped straw tables (mesobs). Here’s the drill. The waiter brings a tray and places it on your table. On the tray are a number of large overlapping pancakes, light, bubbly and with a tactile elastic texture. These are injera, a fermented flatbread made from teff and wheat flour. (Teff is an Ethiopian grain with the lovely English name of lovegrass.) On top of the injera are piles of stew and a central mound of salad. Diners tear off a piece of pancake and use it as an edible spoon. Somewhere in here you may be trying to remember if you washed your hands. In Ethiopia soap and water may be brought to you, but here you have to make do with the sinks in the loo. You are provided with paper napkins at the table, however.
As well as the sofregit, Ethiopian cuisine has another thing in common with Catalan cooking—the colour brown. Most of the stews are pretty similar in colour and consistency, and flavours do not vary wildly, but levels of heat and subtle differences in aromatic spicing are enough to keep the palate interested and ensure one stew is preferred over another.
Our favourite was segawot, chunks of beef in a thick, sticky black and spicy sauce, with the chicken dish (dorowot)—a plump drumstick and a whole hardboiled egg in a sweet and rather hot onion curry—coming second. Menchetabesh was minced beef in a milder, aromatic preparation. Lentils (meser kek) were cooked almost until melting point, their earthiness pepped up with the exotic aroma of cloves. Alecha, a drier mix of carrot, potato and cabbage is the liveliest and brightest of the veg dishes, spiced with garlic, coriander and ginger. The portions of split pea (ater kek), and the stew of greens (gomen) were rather mild tasting in comparison.
Abissinia’s range of infusions and teas should help the digestion if you find that, like me, eating literally hand-to-mouth encourages gobbling. Then you may be able to fit in one of the desserts, such as yoghurt, ice cream or an exotic fruit salad—papaya, mango, kiwi and pineapple served in guava juice with cinnamon and brown sugar.
Abissinia’s dishes are certainly unusual and exotic, but the most unusual and exciting aspect of this restaurant is the family’s utter dedication to serving good, wholesome and honest food, with care and a warm smile. Everything is borught in fresh every day; they don’t have a freezer. At weekend lunchtimes, kids run riot through the restaurant as families make themselves at home, enjoying the sharing, festive feel of this special cuisine.
Torrent de les Flors 55
Tel. 93 213 0785
Combinations €12.50, individual dishes €6-7.50, puddings €2-2.50
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© 2013 Ethiopian Review