A Taste of Africa
Habesha, Koultures and Banaadiri offer big flavours and even bigger values.
Photography by Curtis Comeau
The Smoking Yum
The floral smoke hits you the moment you step inside. Habesha* is known for shisha, a molasses-and-herb smoke, and there you’ll see diverse twenty-somethings puffing away on tall glass pipes.
But, aside from the smoke and private seating that makes it a popular hangout, this four-year-old spot on 118th Avenue offers an in-depth Ethiopian dining experience.
Order a vegetarian combo and a meat platter (starting at $14.95 each) and you’ll get a series of dipping bowls laid on a blanket of spongy injera, a staple bread (and utensil) of Ethiopia.
Take a scrap of bread, lay it flat against your hand, and then fill it with alicha wot, beef cubes in a thick ginger and garlic sauce. Another highlight is the misser wot key, stewed red lentils in a bath of rich spices.
But make sure to order a side of the kitfo ($13.95), which is part of neither combo. This decadent dish of finely chopped, butter-sauted ground beef is best served rare. It’s delicious, but nearly impossible to finish a whole bowl because it’s so rich.
The servers are there to happily guide you through the cuisine and the intended experience. The culture stresses eating communally until you are full, and not leaving room for dessert. Instead, for $9.95, finish the meal with a pot of strong Ethiopian coffee, which serves up to six people. (9515 118 Ave., 780-474-2206, habeshacuisine.com)
Editor’s note: Habesha is now closed.
Koultures Afro-Continental Restaurant pairs a bubblegum-bright feminine atmosphere, made by pink tabletops and matching damask upholstery, with Afro-cuisines of Jamaica, New Orleans and, most prominently, Nigeria.
Best of all, you can eat like a queen for under $15, or share four of the 14 appetizers for about the same price.
For $2.50, you can get a plate of dodo, which are crispy, sweet, sliced and fried plantains paired with a spiced tomato dip that appears again and again on the sides of various plates. Moinmoin, a Nigerian steamed bean cake reminiscent of warm pt, is only $1.99.
Or, “splurge” with an order of firm goat ribs marinated in that trusty sauce for $5.50.
When it comes to entrees, there are even more options. The stews come with a softball-sized base – pounded yam or a grainy cassava – to mix in with them. It’s a clever Nigerian technique, sometimes out of necessity, to double portions and calories.
The egusi (melon seed) stew with beef and goat ($11.99) has such a variety of flavours, including fish stock, that the taste is startlingly unfamiliar to the North American palette. If you’re sensitive, you can tone it down with okra stew ($11.99), a gelatinous mix of beef and vegetables that, you guessed it, comes with that sauce again.
Sunday buffets see much of the menu disappear from the kitchen, so you should wait
until middle or late week to visit if you want the most options. (8803 118 Ave., 780-761-3008, koultures.com)
Banaadiri African Bistro carries cuisine from a small region in Somalia – from which the eatery gets its name – as well as chicken sandwiches and other no-frills options listed on the large menu hanging from the centre of the ceiling.
Even the African fare can come with a side of thin spaghetti and tomato sauce (if the traditional curried rice isn’t your thing), but don’t chalk that up to placating the masses; Italy, and many other trading partners, have greatly influenced the cuisine of Somalia.
But if you’ve come to this little bistro with close-set tables, chances are the spaghetti (and decor) are not what brought you here. It’s the cuisine and prices. Where else can you get an entree, soup and fruit drink for just $10?
That spicy goat soup ($2 on its own) is a bowl of big meat chunks, onions, carrots and spices mixed in a vegetable broth for hearty comfort. Similar in recipe, but not in taste, the beef suqaar ($10), a staple Somali entree of curried meat, carrots and onions, shows the Indian influences.
However, the Basa ($10) reigns at Banaadiri. It’s a large plate of lightly fried and battered half fish, served on a bed of lemon-and-ginger infused basmati rice accompanied by bits of carrot.
And, when you leave – with a banana instead of a wrapped mint – the large portions nearly always guarantee that you’ll be carrying a take-out box. (11732 95 St., 780-474-6655)