Mebrat gives a taste of Africa in our own backyard

Dish - Mebrat Cuisine

January is almost always the best month to try something new. The new year
is a pretty obvious time to start afresh, and besides that, considering that
most of us spend the last two weeks of December up to our necks in tradition
of some kind or another, we could surely use an opportunity to break out of
the tiny little box of our lives. It was in that spirit, having more than had
our fill of pyrogys, that a small group of us found our way to Mebrat
Café, on a bleak little strip of 107 ave.

Horns were honking and exhaust was spewing as we pulled up. It looked dark
and quiet, but a neon “open” sign flashed reassuringly in the
front window. We pulled open the door and left behind the somewhat dubious
atmosphere that had welcomed us to the neighbourhood.

Soothing African music, cozy little tables and interesting artifacts graced
the café. Climbing vines and twinkling lights adorned the walls,
transporting us far away from the urban sprawl obscured by the gauzy

The owner of Mebrat graciously greeted us and we were quickly seated at a
table for four. There were a couple of customers visiting quietly over
coffees in the lounge, but we had our choice of tables in the restaurant. It
was a quiet Monday night and our loud and somewhat boisterous outbursts had
no other ears to disturb.

As the menus were presented, we discovered that we were about to indulge in
Eritrean cuisine: the owner had immigrated to Canada 23 years ago, and the
café represented a small piece of her homeland. A mildly spicy aroma
hung in the air, stimulating our appetites, but first we needed to quench our
thirst. Hoping for African beer, we were somewhat disappointed with the
limited choice of a few standard staples. Budweiser ($3.50) and water would
have to suffice.

The small menu consisted of one vegetarian dish, a chicken dish, a salad and
two beef dishes. A fava bean and feta combination is available for breakfast,
though unfortunately we were about eight hours too late. We ended up going
with the two beef dishes and the vegetarian option. Chicken was hotly
debated, but as all the entrées came with salads, we decided that
would be more than enough food. Besides, I was hoping to leave plenty of room
for the injera, a sponge-like bread made of teff, barley and millet that
doubles as a utensil you can actually eat.

We ordered our beef with “hot” spice and, instead of individual
plates, opted for a large, family-style platter, true to how food is served
in Eritrea. We sat back, sipped our drinks and inhaled deeply as enticing
aromas meandered over from the kitchen.

Soon the owner/cook/waitress appeared before us, laden down with a huge tray
full of exotic morsels. Everything had to be cleared off the table to fit the
platter that held our dinner. A large piece of injera served as the base and
the different entrées were strategically positioned on top of it in
such a manner that no-one had to over exert themselves to scoop up the object
of their desire. On the side was a dish of elegantly rolled injera. We were
ready to devour.

The beef ($12), sautéed in awaze, a spiced cayenne pepper, gave off
the most incredible aroma, and in quick succession everyone had torn off
pieces of injera and scooped up samples. I was surprised at the sourness of
the bread (evidently toned down for Canadian tastes) but quickly became
accustomed to it. It imparted a tangy quality to everything without
overpowering and overwhelming. The beef was tender with a unique and
tantalizing facet to it, one that I couldn’t put my finger on;
spiciness and heat were prevalent, but not dominating. The warmth in my mouth
grew with each progressive bite, but it wasn’t the sensation I was
accustomed to when I think of spice. Regardless, it didn’t last very

The vegetarian special ($11) consisted of a cabbage/carrot/potato skin
combination as well as lentils and spinach.  The lentils, with their
creamy texture and mild undertones of garlic and ginger, were the surprise
hit, perfect for dipping our injera. The cabbage mixture had a mild, slightly
sweet sensation, while the spinach mixture seemed somewhat bland and was
quickly forgotten in favour of the other two options.

The other dish, short strips of beef sautéed in awaze, onion, green
pepper and tomato ($10) was subtly spiced. The crisp green peppers (and, in
our case, red peppers) provided a nice contrast to the tender beef. It was
accompanied by a salad of lightly dressed iceberg lettuce and chunks of
tomato that was left largely untouched in favour of the more dynamic beef

With all the dipping and sampling, it didn’t take long to become full.
We all agreed that eating with our fingers added an element of fun to the
evening, though we did agree that our Canadian palates would have enjoyed it
more had the heat quotient been taken up a notch.

Our journey that night enabled us to experience a small piece of another
culture. With so much diversity surrounding us, it’s nice to know that
the possibilities are endless for travelling the world without leaving home.

Mon – Thu, 10 am – 11 pm
Fri, 10 am – 3 am
Sat – Sun, 11 am – 3 am

Mebrat Café
10603 – 107 Ave, 424.9929

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