BY ANDREW COPPOLINO | AUGUST 2022
For some time, Muya Restaurant flew under the radar as a major supplier of injera – a spongy, dense flatbread traditionally made from teff flour – to dozens of businesses including a hefty number in the GTA as well as various stores in the region.
Several years ago, owner Wendessen Weldgioris expanded the business to become a dine-in restaurant; he expanded again a few years after that and there’s now a cool lounge. It’s a testament to Weldgioris’s chops as an entrepreneur to grow and evolve, but it’s also indicative of how much Waterloo Region residents have embraced cuisines of the world.
As a whole, the region can now experience Ethiopian food and culture at several area restaurants, including the long-standing East Africa Café in downtown Kitchener. At any of these venues, when you ask staff about their cooking, they virtually burst with pride, Weldgioris included.
And so he should.
Next door to the restaurant kitchen is a production room where thousands of injera are made and packaged for shipment to other restaurants and food purveyors. The machine that makes the injera, in fact, is a marvel of Weldgioris’s technological and creative mind, having come from the automotive industry in the early 2000s: you can have any flatbread you want as long as it’s injera.
What is Injera?
Injera is a fermented batter, a day-long process, made from flour with teff that is poured on a hot griddle resulting in another marvel of hundreds and hundreds of tiny bubbles that hold sauces and juices yet doesn’t fall apart.
It’s edible art, but it’s also a defining part of the culture.
“Back home, we would use teff. But here it’s very expensive and hard to find. We use some teff but also barley flour, sorghum and a little bit of white flour,” Weldgioris says.
The batter is mixed in the morning and goes back in the fridge for nine or ten hours or so to ferment. “We add a bit of water if its thick. It’s like a crepe. It’s not a dough.”
Muya’s injera comes off the line and is packaged. Pancake-like, I’d compare it to a thick buckwheat galette but softer and with a delicious bite and a gentle tang like a sour dough.
If it’s not packaged and delivered to Toronto, it’s on your plate in the Muya dining room – every time.
Injera – a Food Staple in Ethiopia
You use it by tearing off pieces to scoop up dishes like doro wot chicken cooked in butter along with sauteed onions, garlic, ginger and an essential Ethiopian spice blend, berbere.
Or kifto, the Ethiopian tartare and either beef alicha kikil or zil zil tibs. There’s also shiro wot of chickpea flour with berbere, or a veggie sampler platter that includes kik alicha wot (yellow split peas with turmeric), or misir key wot of lentils in berbere for a bit of gentle heat.
Tekel gomen is a delicious combination of cabbage and potatoes reminiscent of an eastern European dish, again with turmeric and garlic, while gomen is stewed collard greens and spices; fosolia is sauteed green beans, carrots and onions with spices including the heady turmeric.
Regardless, there’s always injera.
When you eat injera you are partaking of and enjoying Ethiopian culture; nothing comes to the table without injera – and, in fact, the large disc of injera is often both the “plate” on which the vegetables and meat sit and the utensil you use to pick them up to eat with your hands.
”Injera is everything. And all food and every dish is eaten with injera. Back home, we eat it three times a day: morning, afternoon and for dinner,” Weldgioris says with a laugh. “Injera is important.”
Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino.