- Location: 910 12 Ave. S.W.
- City: Calgary
- Province: Alberta
- Phone: 403-452-3498
- Website: www.abyssiniarestaurant.ca
- Price: $4.99-$50.99
- Cuisine: Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine
- Atmosphere: Casual and welcoming
- Drinks on offer: Small selection of Ethiopian beers and wines as well as traditional Ethiopian coffee service
- Best bets: timatim fitfit, mahiberawi, special kitfo, k’ey missir wot'
- Vegetarian friendly? Yes, plenty of vegan options too.
- Additional info: Plenty of dishes here can have a pronounced heat.
A few minutes into dinner at Abyssinia and I realize I am not nearly as informed on Calgary’s diverse dining scene as I fancy myself to be.
People can get in their ruts when it comes to dining out and I admit I have found myself in mine. With a penchant for Vietnamese food and much time spent travelling in Asia in recent years, I’ve no doubt that my restaurant receipts at year end will show that Asian concepts – from casual to higher end to fusion and whatever might lie in between – command my purchasing power.
I am comfortable saying that I am not an expert in every cuisine found around the globe. Neither are you, neither is anyone, but now is the time we should be travelling through food, since hopping on a plane isn’t really in the cards.
I originally thought Abyssinia, a small Ethiopean/Eritrean restaurant in the Beltline, was relatively new to the city, but a little digging revealed it had opened its doors in 2017. Just off the corner of 12 Avenue S.W. and 8 Street S.W., it is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of location, but I’m happy I’ve found it by way of a friend’s recommendation.
“Abyssinia is to die for,” she said.
COVID-19-related spacing aside, the unassuming eatery boasts a nice atmosphere upon arrival. Large round tables mimic mesobs, traditionally woven wicker baskets meant to serve food, and ornate, hand-carved chairs peppered throughout the space help make the room feel colourful and inviting.
The menu will provide you with a brief explanation of Ethiopean food culture followed by a glossary to help those unfamiliar with the food terms, like me, navigate their meal with more ease.
The portions are beyond generous, and this is especially true with the mahiberawi. The platter arrives, surely two feet in diameter, and my friend and I look wide-eyed at each other.
At just over $50, the sizable sampling of an array of stews is supposed to be ideal for four, but, after eating leftovers days later, I’d say six could easily be satiated by it. For people largely unfamiliar with Ethiopean cuisine, it’s an ideal way to appease curious taste buds.
Dishes like k’ik’il, a stew full of braised lamb meat with jalapenos, turmeric and plenty of warming spices, and k’ey missir wot' (a red lentil stew spiced with the Ethiopian spice blend berberé) can be happily sopped up with the plentiful amount of injera that comes with the bountiful platter. The fermented flatbread is tangy – not unlike a piece of sourdough – and spongy. Its acidic nature is a nice counterbalance to the stews' rich and often spicy profiles.
A spicy chicken stew (doro wot') is at the heart of the mahiberawi. Chunks of chicken are cooked in a sauce brimming with berberé. With a blend of chilies and warming spices like cumin, cloves and allspice, this dish packs an intense punch, but is a wonderful standout. To cool the heat, a small portion of ayib, Ethiopean cottage cheese, is served right beside it. Much appreciated!
Seemingly overestimating my hunger, I also ordered the timatim fitfit. The marinated tomato, jalapeno and onion salad is studded with pieces of injera. The flatbread holds the dressing remarkably well and the brightness of the salad dressing mixed with the subtle heat of jalapeno slices and cool tomatoes becomes a palate cleanser of sorts.
As Abyssinia was relatively quiet during this particular dinner, I wondered how it fared with its takeout and delivery. So, another evening saw Abyssinia coming to my home.
Special kitfo, an Ethiopian tartare, arrived surprisingly well-composed, being cushioned by a roll of injera in the to-go container. Seared lightly in kibbeh (clarified butter), spiced with mitmita – essentially an even spicier version of berberé – and minced, the interesting tartare was served with ayib be gomen, a combination of stewed collard greens and cottage cheese to cool the palate. In the vast world of tartares, it was unlike anything I had ever had before.
Their injera “sushi” seemed like a fun option that we did not have room for at the sit-down dinner, but once it arrived, we found it was essentially the special kitfo rolled up and sliced. Perhaps an ordering mistake on our part, but with a price tag of $19.99, it’s the one item I wouldn’t order again.
The third beef dish was siga t’ibs, a simple stir-fry of cubed beef, jalapenos and onions. No complaints here and for anyone out there that doesn’t lean into spicy food, this is a safe bet to opt for.
Experiencing what this humble restaurant in the heart of Calgary had to offer has made me appreciate that I have much more exploration to do – and so much more to eat.
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.