Ben Thanh 500 Fairway Road South Kitchener, ON N2C 1X3…
#105/106-215 Highland Road West
Kitchener, Ontario N2M 3C1
(519) 504-3488 / (519) 208-8588
Vegetarian dinner for two with five selections and lots of injera: $25 including taxes and tip
Open: daily (not licensed)
Besides the food, I love the people who run the restaurant. When you ask them about their cooking and how the meal is taken traditionally, they burst with pride. They love talking about it, and they love sharing conversation with you about it.
That, to me, captures a very good portion of what a good dining culture is all about, and — I will baldly state in light of the recent bullshit going on around the world and the preponderance of Brexitish-Trumpite assholes — the restaurant symbolizes what this community is all about here in Waterloo Region — and what Canada is, for most part, at its very core and how we can be better.
Muya started out a few years ago as a take-away shop that baked the Ethiopian bread — injera — and supplied the Waterloo Region and a surprising number of areas outside of it. It amazed me to learn the reach this little-known shop has: Muya co-owner Wendessen Weldgioris estimates that they deliver thousands of pieces of injera each week.
Traditionally made using teff flour, injera is a fermented, soft and bubbly flatbread perhaps unlike any other flatbread. Compare it to a thick buckwheat galette but softer It’s not crisp but rather spongy and chewy at once — and offers a delicious bite with a gentle tang like a sour dough. The teff grain is almost exclusively Ethiopian in its production and rarely grown elsewhere in the world. But here in Kitchener, it is clearly thriving.
When the barber-shop and hairstylist next to Muya in the small plaza on Highland Road between Belmont and Patricia streets closed, Muya moved in and sprouted like a grain of teff with a 25 or so seat restaurant.
At the centre of attention in the plain, open and bright dining room — a TV blaring CNN sometimes — is some of the paraphernalia for their Ethiopian coffee ceremony (most people know how good coffee from Ethiopian can be). The ceremony itself is a wonderful ritual which might see niter kibbeh, cardamom-seasoned butter, added to the brew.
Otherwise, the dining room is decorated with a few photographs and paintings depicting Ethiopian culture. Make sure you look up: a few ceiling tiles have been replaced with stained glass-type art. Service is relaxed and informal. They don’t serve alcohol.
The restaurant offers chicken — such as the dero wot cooked in butter along with sauteed onions, garlic, ginger and an essential Ethiopian spice blend berbere — and lamb and beef dishes. Kifto, the Ethiopian tartare, is available and the shiro wot of chickpea flour with berbere is very good as well.
While I’ve sampled a few quite good dishes that have sauces and preparations that allow you to distinguish flavours, I find myself craving the vegetarian items, regardless of my carnivorous inclinations.
The best way to do that is select the vegetarian combination of sampling dishes: it is ridiculously priced at the (too) low figure of $10.99 for five samples and a few rolls of injera as well as the injera that forms the “plate.” It can fee two people. I think the filling nature of the injera has something to do with that.
As for that edible plate idea, 400 hundred years ago platters on Medieval tables were hard discs of coarse, tough bread which was then consumed after the meal’s sauces and scraps had soaked in (or it was thrown to the dogs). You would never do the latter with injera, however, because it soaks up so much deliciousness. It’s nice that the simplicity of eating your “plate” has survived.
The sampler may arrive in a portioned serving dish or loaded directly onto your injera plate (rice and salads are also available). You eat with your hands, too: tear off a bit of injera and use it soft taco-like to pick up bite-sized morsels of the food. That digital interaction could be kik alicha wot (yellow split peas in a sort of tight stew with turmeric) or misir key wot of lentils in berbere for a bit of very pleasant heat.
Tekel gomen is an absolutely 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 and fosolia is sauteed green beans, carrots and onions with spices. They are all very good.
In four visits to Muya, each of the six or seven dishes has been perfectly cooked, distinct in flavour and texture and visually appealing. The injera, needless to say, is scrumptious and a marvel of a complicated network of small and tiny bubbles that hold sauces and yet remains in tact. I find it inspiring, that the fermentation process has yielded such beautiful edible art.
I find Muya inspiring too: it’s delicious and simple dining — eating with your hands — and savouring the process and the products: lentils, split peas and chickpeas offer warmth and comfort and knock down the cultural barriers and closed-mindedness of which we are all so tired of these days.
Go eat there and be refreshed.