One of my new favourite restaurants in Calgary is Fassil, a family-run Ethiopian place in the southeast. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get here to try their delicious stews and other dishes.
If you’ve never had Ethiopian food before, here’s a quick primer.
All food is served on and with injera, a large pancake made from fermented teff flour which gives it a slight sour taste like sourdough. There are no utensils. You rip off a piece of injera and scoop up the stews and meats with it.
Wot means stew, and tibs means grilled meat.
Ethiopian food is not to be rushed. It’s a meal to be shared and savoured with good company.
The stews themselves aren’t so much spicy hot as they are infused and simmered with bright spices. Berbere is a common spice mix of usually chile pepper ginger, cloves, coriander, and allspice.
Yeberie tibs ($12) are tender sautéed beef with onions, green chiles, and bell peppers and infused with niter kibbeh, a clarified butter simmered with spices. The chicken meat falls off the bone in the doro wot ($13) with a berberie sauce, a spice mix dominated by powdered chile pepper.
Fassil has lots of vegetarian offerings, including a delicious, slow-burning misr wot (boiled split lentils in ginger, garlic and turmeric sauce) and gomen (spinach with onion, garlic and ginger). The vegetarian combo ($12) is a great sampler of five sides, and enough to satisfy one person.
I had read a while ago about an Ethiopian coffee ceremony and was keen to see what it was all about. Even though it wasn’t on the menu, I asked the waitress about it and she nodded, warning that it would take some time.
Traditionally, coffee beans are first roasted over hot coals. The waitress at Fassil came out with a large frying pan, in which the beans were sizzling and pushed them around with a spatula. I didn’t know this but this is where we were supposed to enjoy the aromatic smoke wafting from the pan.
She took the hot beans and ground them up, and then to the kitchen to boil the coffee.
We were served the coffee in a tall-necked vessel as part of a beautiful china set — along with some burning frankincense. The incense is a traditional part of the ceremony. It was quite strong (poor Jason got the brunt of the smoke) and the waitress took it away after a few minutes.
The coffee, served only with sugar, was interesting in that it started off almost bitter and then mellowed into something more sweet. Apparently, the coffee ceremony, meant to be shared among friends, can last for several hours!
We sipped the coffee from tiny cups, and realized there was way too much coffee for two people. We need to go back with more friends!
Fassil, 3608-17th Ave. SE, Calgary, (403) 387-0555.