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Dinner in Eritrea

Posted Jan 26 2009 4:32pm
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 herbsand peppers to bring out natural flavours. Careful and skillful foodpreparation 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 breadtogether 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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