From Taiwan to Ethiopia

Chicken with coriander in a traditional restaurant in Taipei

Earlier this year, I spent a long weekend in Taipei and fell in love with the place. Of course, one thing that greatly impressed me was the food – familiar from my time in China, but with elements unique to Taiwan, such as the heavy use of garlic and coriander. Imagine my excitement when I found out that there was going to be a Taiwanese food festival in London.

Tickets had sold out online but were available on the door; my friend and I duly queued up at the Irish Centre (a bizarre choice of venue) and waited, eyeing up people with goodies walking past.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. An official cut us off and turned us away. All tickets were sold out.

Hungry and downtrodden, we were determined to be well-fed. Utilizing the power of technology (ie. a smart phone), we left Irish Taiwan and trekked a mile to Ethiopia.

The Place: The Queen of Sheba
The Food: Ethiopian

Queen of Sheba has a charm, a kind of homey cosyness. We sat down and after much debate about just how spicy the chef’s special spicy sauce would be, ordered two dishes to share:

Ingudai W’et – “A delicious mushroom stew marinated in onion, olive oil, ginger, garlic, simmered in red pepper and wine sauce.”

Doro Alicha W’et – “Tender chicken on the bone, simmered in a mild blended sauce of Ethiopian butter, onion, ginger, garlic and cardamom.”

This was my first time eating Ethiopian food, and for those who are also new to it, let me explain.

All dishes are served on a spongy, sour flatbread called injera, which is how I imagine the offspring of a pancake/crumpet coupling would turn out. It is traditionally made with teff flour, but the owners explained to me that they were having some difficulty mixing teff flour with English water, and were therefore using a variety of flours instead. (Teff is also very expensive in the UK). It is always served in a sifet, a kind of basket.

Sifet

Injera acts as both cutlery and a plate. You break off small pieces from the rolls and use them to scoop up the dishes. Once the rolls are finished, you can start on the “plate”, the best bit as we were told, because it has already soaked up all the flavours.

On its own, I found it far too sour but it complimented the strong flavours of the dishes. I also found it far too heavy, leaving me longing for a spoon!

Doro Alicha W’et (chicken stew) in the middle, Ingudai W’et (mushroom stew) at the edges

No-one can accuse Ethiopian food of being bland. The flavours pack a powerful punch, but it’s hard to distinguish the ingredients individually. Out of the two stews, the chicken was my favourite – I found it had a creamy, citrus flavour (although no citrus was mentioned!)  which went well with the injera. My friend preferred the mushroom stew, but I found the tangy pepper sauce obliterated the taste of the mushrooms.

Overall, the flavours were a little one-dimensional for me. Sometimes as you eat, flavours transform over the course of a mouthful or even a few mouthfuls. These dishes gave their one shot flavour bomb, and I was left craving a bit of depth and variety.

However, settled in a cosy room, tearing food apart with my hands, and being served by a very friendly Ethiopian couple meant that my visit to the Queen of Sheba was extremely enjoyable. I intend to return and try some of the fried dishes and a creamy stew. I think there could be some winning dishes just waiting to be discovered. Alternatively, if anyone has any recommendations for Ethiopian cuisine, please email me.

Overall 4/5

A great place to try good quality Ethiopian food in a relaxed setting.

Food 3.5/5 – I couldn’t fault the quality, but the flavours didn’t have the wow factor. It might have been my personal taste – I intend to go back and try more dishes.

Value 4/5 – Dishes ranged from about £8 – £11. Although small on initial inspection, when combined with injera, there is no way you could leave with an empty stomach.

Atmosphere 4/5 – Relaxed and cosy.

Service 5/5 – The couple couldn’t do enough to help us order, advise the chef to go easy on the spiciness (my friend and I can only do medium), and explain about Ethiopian cuisine. Really delightful.

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