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Ethiopian eats, wholesome and cheap

Students with a tight budget looking to diversify their palate beyond that of SAIT Polytechnic’s cafeteria will be pleasantly surprised with Marathon Ethiopian restaurant location in Kensington.

Owned by SAIT student Michael Bogale, the restaurant is his full-time project, offering something culturally different for those looking for something new.

When I was there the atmosphere was mellow: the interior of the restaurant was quaint and welcoming, further complimented by friendly staff and toned down tungsten lighting.

With only a budget of $20, the menu offered plenty under the price—the biggest draw for those on a budget being portions and the amount of food served—Bogale, however, recommended the vegetarian combo (#27), which came with the choice of injera (a sour, pancake-like bread made with a combination of teff, a nutritious Ethiopian grain; barley flour; and wheat flour) or rice and salad, for a price of $17.

For those new to Ethiopian cuisine, some may be dissuaded by injera due to its soft texture and sourness—although Marathon’s injera is toned down by the addition of other ingredients. And, while forks and knives are available, the most enticing, and likely confusing for prospective eaters would be that, with injera, one would eat with their hands. If one can get over that fact then their experience will become a lot more personal.

The vegetarian combo includes smaller portions of items already found within the menu: Yetimatim Fitfit (#6), chopped injera mixed with tomato, green pepper, onion and vegetable oil; Yater Kik Alicha (#18), split peas cooked and seasoned with onion, pepper, turmeric powder, fresh ginger and mild garlic; Yesimir Kik Wat (#19), split red lentils cooked in berbere sauce, onion, fresh garlic and fresh ginger; Cabbage and Carrots (#20), sautéed with turmeric powder, fresh ginger and mild garlic.

Due to the busyness of the restaurant, it took some time (around half-an-hour) for my order to come. When the dish had arrived, extra injera was accompanied to use and grab food with. Aesthetics of the dish were basic and, for newcomers, somewhat intimidating as each dish (placed atop a large injera) looked like mash.

However, what lacked in aesthetics came with a wallop of taste as each dish, grasped between my fingers and the accompanied injera, brought a unique flavour without masking the taste of the bread. Some were more notable and some were underwhelming (Cabbage and Carrots), though not dissatisfactory.

Yesimir Kik Wat (split red lentils), being cooked with berbere sauce, stood out among the other accompanied dishes. The sauce itself is unique as it’s mixed with herbs and spices not commonly found within western sauces, namely korarima, or Ethiopian Cardamom. While it does provide a bite, berbere doesn’t overpower the dish, allowing one to still taste the dish at it’s full potential.

One caveat was the lack of variation of texture. While each dish was tasty and flavourful, a bit of crunch would have further embellished the meal—and while lettuce provided a bit of that need, it wasn’t enough.

However, on that sole sour note, the size of the dish itself was surprisingly large as I could only finish a quarter of my meal.

For a price of $17, the amount of leftovers taken home was well-worth the price.

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