If there’s a cuisine that should be in your regular dining repertoire that probably isn’t, it’s Ethiopian. Ever since discovering Blacktown’s cluster of Ethiopian restaurants, I’ve been a confirmed fan of eating wot (onion-based stews) over stretchy, sour injera (bubbly, crepe-like bread).
Along with Alem’s House, who have brought a vegetarian (vegan) rendition of the cuisine to Camperdown, Jambo Jambo Africa offers you an atmospheric introduction to Ethiopian food, without the need to leave the Inner West.
Ethiopian-born Joseph Bekele made his first foray into the restaurant game in 2012 in Crows Nest. Transplanting his restaurant to Glebe a year or so back, Jambo Jambo Africa continues to be a celebration of culture.
From the prominence given to the colours (green, yellow and red) of the Ethiopian flag, to brick walls jam-packed with tourism posters, art and memorabilia, the net effect is a warm, personality driven space fronted by Bekele and his easy-going smile.
Even what’s in the glass, chenin blanc (or steen, as the grape is known in South Africa) and pinotage (South Africa’s signature red wine grape), celebrate the African continent, though if you prefer a less immersive drinking experience, Bekele also allows BYO. The best way to experience this cuisine is with a Combination Platter ($95/2 people). Built over injera, it’s a collection of any six dishes – wot or milder alicha – of your choosing, meat, vegetarian, or (preferably) both. At Jambo Jambo Africa this all-inclusive meal kicks off with an entrée platter where chapati (flatbread) and pastry triangles called sambusa filled with lentils cooked with onions, garlic and green chilli are dragged through honey. The highlight is kifko, raw beef mixed with spiced clarified butter, eaten as a generous pinch wrapped in fresh lettuce.
Ethiopia’s spice mix is called berbere, and includes dried chilli, pepper, ginger and fenugreek. You’ll find it in wot (stews), including misr wot made on onions, garlic, ginger and split lentils. I found the version here too mild, so I asked for mitmita, a hot Ethiopian chilli powder, and Bekele was happy to oblige. It added more tingle to my vegetable selections, like gomen, mild simmered collard greens (brassicas) and a slightly less compelling turmeric-based vegetable curry called alicha.
The highlight of the meal was key wot, a slow-cooked goat stew served on the bone because goat meat is quite lean. The rich, onion-based gravy is so good, it should inspire you to eat the injera that lies underneath it. If you find that too messy with your fingers, circulating staff bearing wicker baskets will dispense additional scrolls of the fermented (and gluten-free) injera. The expectation is you use it, rather than cutlery, to eat your meal, but they do supply both. Kitffo is another winner, though I regretted ordering the finely chopped spiced, lean beef as lightly cooked rather than raw, as is traditional. If you don’t like spicy food, lamb tibs leans more towards a black pepper, garlic and rosemary-based stir-fry, offset by juicy red capsicum pieces.
Jambo Jambo Africa also throws in a (non-traditional) dessert featuring mango and salted caramel ice cream, or coffee roasted from green coffee beans in a method that arose in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. I only chose the former because I wanted to have an early night.
Jambo Jambo Africa Ethiopian Restaurant
93 Glebe Point Road, Glebe
Ph: (02) 8033 2303