Sunday, 23 September 2012

Selam from Mosob

Work has taken over my life at the moment and I don’t like it. For the last few months I have been working my butt off to launch a new brand, website and business in literally no time at all.
Well its up and running and I thought that was stressful, but now I have to make the bloody thing work, which isn’t going too well, but I seem to be in a vicious circle of stress, lack of sleep, frustration and anger.
So everything in my life has been taking second stage, including this blog, it’s not that I haven’t wanted to update it, its just I haven’t had the energy to do so. But as it looks like things are going tits up and I’ve resigned myself to it all ending quite soon, my stress levels have lessened a lot.  Some good news then.
So with a huge backlog of blogs to write, which should all flow pretty quickly now, I am beginning with a very tardy blog about a fantastic Eritrean restaurant we were invited to in Maida Vale recently. So Suliana please forgive my crap time keeping, and I hope to eat at your place again soon, as soon as your mum is back from her holidays. A while ago, I received an email from Mosob, a small family run Eritrean restaurant on the Harrow Road.
Now my only glimpse into this incredible cuisine was at Zigni House on the Essex Road, which we found absolutely amazing and kept meaning to go back and try more, but so far haven’t got round to it.
So when Suliana sent me an email inviting me to come and eat at her family’s restaurant we jumped at the chance.
I have to admit I was wondering if she was being over friendly with us when we arrived, but it turned out pretty quickly that she is like this with every person who comes into the restaurant.
The family take the time to make you feel completely at home, and we felt like were really eating in her house and not a restaurant. We learnt a lot about the history of the country and the arguments with their neighbour.

As we knew nothing and well our knowledge of Eritrean food is still pretty sketchy, we left it up to Suliana to choose for us, and choose well she did.
She decided we would enjoy the Massawa, a set menu of three starters and four mains, named after a state in her homeland. Actually all the set menus are names after provinces back home.

The cuisine of Eritrea has been influenced by its surrounding neighbors of Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Arabian Peninsula and of course more recently Italy, especially with the tomato based sauces.
One thing I do know about is the slightly sour Injera, this crepe like bread serves as the base for all meals, and as a bit of a bread addict I can soundly say that I love this idea.
Used both as a utensil and as part of the meal, injera has to be one of the best breads in the world, pulling portions of the bread off to scoop up the delicious meat dishes is the best way to eat.

The starters came together on one plate and were beautiful presented, as I said I love bread, I love injera and to have spinach and timtimo (lentils) both rolled in injera I was in pure heaven.
 The falafel were a lot different from the normal ones I am used to but these, these were a mixture of chickpeas and fava beans and came with two awesome dips of natural yoghurt and Awaze, a spicy Eritrean paste, which rocked.
After the starters we were really looking forward to the mains and we were not disappointed.

The meal was brought out and covered by a woven conical lid that forms parts of the Mosob, the traditional serving table, hence the name of the restaurant.

With complete drama and excitement the lid was removed and underneath lay enough food to feed an army, never mind two.
On top of the plate lay the injera topped with Zigni (rich and spicy lamb stew), Derho Quluwa (chicken and mixed peppers), Alicha Ahmelti (lightly spiced cabbage, carrots and split beans) and Timtimo (spiced lentils)
How we were supposed to eat all of this was beyond me but we gave it a damn good try.

I really love two things in life, eating with my hands and sharing food with close friends. Eritrean culture is right up my street as normally no cutlery is used, hence the injera being served with every meal, and as from the size of the meal, it is made for sharing.

The injera at the bottom is perfect as it soaks up all those lovely juices and takes on the many different flavors of the dishes you are eating, although you do get messy fingers, but food tastes better when it soaks into your skin.
The Zigni is Suliana’s mothers recipe, and sadly we never got to meet her that night as she was on holiday, we promised to return to meet her in October. This was the star of the show for me, the lamb was so tender, it literally melted in your mouth, the spices were spot on, not too much, it was a symphony in my mouth.
The Derho Quluwa, cubed chicken sautéed with inions and mixed peppers added freshness to the plate and again was easily scooped up by the injera.
I am a big fan of lentils and to have yet more of them in the form of Timtimo, spiced with traditional Eritrean spices made my day. As people call people from Tuscany “Bean Eaters”, I could easily be called a lentil obsessive.
With so much meat on the plate, the spied cabbage and carrot came as a welcome relief and lightened the meal somewhat.
Now I keep mentioning the word spices here, so maybe I should try and explain what they are.
The main Eritrean spices are Berbere, a spice blend of allspice, ajwain, chilli’s and rue berries amongst others.
Awaze is the Eritrean chilli paste and I’m pretty sure Suliana said they make theirs in house, as they do the injera.
So it’s not all heat, although for the chilli virgin then it may make you a little hot under the collar, but its all about the combination of flavors that these spice blends are created for.

Not surprisingly we couldn’t finish our meal, with so many great tastes and flavors on that plate and an overdose of injera, it’s amazing we managed to eat as much as we did.
We were told that not many people actually finish the set menus, which really isn’t surprising.

Coffee came from this part of Africa, and both Eritrea and Ethiopia have their coffee traditions, and we were so happy that we could not only witness this but also get to sample some fine coffee.
The coffee ceremony is a huge part of Eritrean culture and prospective brides are tested by their to be mother in laws on how good they can make the Bunne.
The coffee is brewed by roasting the beans over hot coals in a brazier, this creates the wonderful smoke that you smell as soon as you walk into Mosob.
The beans are then ground and boiled in a small pot and poured into a jebena, the ceramic traditional pot that has straw or horsehair stuffed in the spout to act as a filter against the grounds.
The coffee is served in small cups with no handles for you to drink from. There are three servings, which I cannot remember the names of them, but I drunk all three as it was so good, even being so late it didn’t matter, this doesn’t happen too often and I wanted to make the most of it.
Whilst this is all going on a small amount of frankincense was being burnt to perfume the air around us, took me right back to Oman.

Plus we were also served with a huge bowl of popcorn, enough to feed a row in a cinema, but it’s all part of the coffee ceremony.
As we were first time visitors we got to meet Suliana’s brother, who I won’t give too much away as you have to experience this for yourself but defiantly entertained us with a few great quizzes. When you do go, just brush up on your geographical knowledge, it will come in handy. We never managed to get them all, but it was great fun. It’s the little things like this that make you feel part of the family of Mosob.
We will be returning, hopefully with Little M and her parents who are over from Colombia, as this will be a great experience like no other.

Another thing I loved about Mosob, was that for the whole of the day, I could smell the food on my fingers. Brilliant.

I really urge you to try this amazing cuisine, whether at Mosob or at Zigni House, when ever it is open as you will become amazed at how good injera is.

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