Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ethiopian Vegan Style: A lesson in many things

Yummy at Yummy's:

As noted in my previous post....I was having a bummer of a day. However, with the exception of some deaths in my family, my tummy has always saved me from the 'depths of despair'.

So yesterday afternoon while I was sobbing my way through a packing party I was asked:

Hand on chin: "Where would you like to go for dinner tonight?"

"sob, sob...Ethiopian?"

Perhaps it was my tears, or perhaps it was the idea of doing Ethiopian vegan-style, but all of the 'yeses' were on my side of the kleenex box.

I wasn't expecting too much. To be honest, the reviews haven't been that grand; I have heard both good and bad, hot and cold about this tiny little trinket of a restaurant that is on the SOUTH side of Queen Street, just west of Brock St. (which is just west of Dufferin).

After walking around for a bit, trying to find the food-hut and while swimming through a troupe of wedding guests headed for a privately booked ceremony/reception at the Gladstone Hotel (horse out front, crowds adorned with clothes that suggested that this could have been the wedding of George Stroumboulopoulis, or the lead singer of Radio Head), we made it to the mecca that I had been dreaming about since coming back to Toronto M and B Yummy's Ethiopian Restaurant.

The restaurant has a bizarre feel to it. The neon green walls and the plastic bakery boxes that line them aren't the most welcoming. Nor, are the thin wicker chairs that sit around the functional, yet wobbly tables. But, hey, good enough for me. I couldn't care less. I am a vegan for god's sake and you are telling me that there is a restaurant that wants to cater to my bizarre life style? Take me anywhere and give me your most neon green and most wobbly table! Onward!

The menu was so interesting - full of words and dishes that I had never really seen before. There was a mention of chickpeas and a couple of chinese-esque faux meat dishes to help me, but for the most part I was stumped (a suggestion would be to have a fully developed legend and glossary at the back of the menu)* I left the ordering up to the dynamite woman who served us (when I say serve, I mean that in the vaguest of manners - it was that 'sort-of' service, where you want more attention and you are constantly feeling like the super nerd who has put their hand up too many times in class and no longer gets called upon).

Our waitress brought me number 15 on the menu, otherwise known as the Vegetarian Combo (this is a little funny because I usually only see 'vegetarian combo platter' at pubs and restaurants that present their v-combos complete with a couple of pieces of cheese, a hunk of bread and maybe some deep-fried something - but here, everything was the vegetarian combo-platter and it was all so interesting.)

There were also orders made for the chickpea shiro wot and the red lentil missir wot, but I was sold on my vegetarian platter the second the HUGE ufo-style plate was plunked down in front of my eyes. Upon a massive bed of injera bread (leavened bread made from TEFF flour) lay the heads of five smallish splashes of different 'goops', while a large, red, burning sun-like goop was constructed in the centre of my injera. The goops were an assortment of beans, spinach and lentils. The flavours were all so earthy and dark that the bright green heat of the diced, and liberally sprinkled, chillies evoked a bi-polar response from my taste buds. (but, like all mental illness, departing from the bland reality of the same old chickpea and cucumber salad is a delight!).

I completed the meal with a vegan ice cream cone (at this point in the meal I actually became emotional - when was the last time someone held out an ice 'cream' cone for me? I felt like a member of a winning relay team who was about to run the last 200 metres with the tastiest baton EVER).

Nathan passed on taking home his chickpea wot, so I enjoyed it this morning (cold) for breakfast. Excellent.

Although I have less than three weeks left in the city, I plan on hitting this place at least two more times - they have a great brunch and breakfast menu that is well worth the neon walls.
Overall, the restaurant, and its host left me curious and wanting more.

The vittles were cheap and the atmosphere was way more interesting than the sterile nature too-often being offered by other vegan establishments in the city (Sorry, Fresh, I love your salads, but it is a bit too austere). My favourite part of the evening has to be a photo finish between: the food, the crazy downstairs bathroom that had no toilet paper, and included a trudge through a child's play area before finding the toilet, and the hilarious manner in which the hostess had to look at the menus twice: once when we were ordering to see what exactly was on her menus and a second time when we were paying and she had to check the prices. Excellent.

*Don't read this unless you feel like joining in some cynicism against the nouveau-chic style in Vegetarian/Vegan dinning:

So, okay - this establishment is lacking in any real sign posts to tell you how to figure out what it is that you might be ordering, sure. But, this lack of pandering to the whitey in the room evoked some interesting and important experiences for myself and my fellow dinners:

1. We broke through the 'do not look' at each other barrier that usually exists between tables of people at restaurants. This great couple sitting behind me gave us a whole bunch of suggestions and advice about what to order, and than looked admiringly over my shoulder when my platter found its way home. They also proceeded to share their vast amount of inside knowledge about TEFF flour and where one might procure it in Toronto.

2. We had the chance to be educated by the owner of the shop - she shared her suggestions in an off-the-cuff kind of manner - "10 and 15". She went out of her way to try and find some literature about TEFF for those of us with a curiosity at the table. I was gushing with an inappropriate amount of thanks by the time we left. I feel in love with this woman; her kindness and her smile was so heartwarming and I think that much of this would have been lost if there was a little "lonely planet" guide attached to the menu.

3. Vegetarian Haven has a little "this is Seitan" guide at the back of its menu and Keith and I had the crappiest meal of our Vegan-hunting experience at this location.

In my opinion, anything that is going to get people talking and questioning their surroundings (especially when it is four well-off white people in the middle of parkdale) is worth it. Long live signs in a different tongue!

1 comment:

Melanie said...

This sounds fantastic! It must have been great to talk to everyone to find out what to eat etc. Looks good too.