The foodventures are heading south (literally!) as we visit South London’s Camberwell. Not the most glamorous of places, but good things come to those who work their butts off and travel far.
If you’re looking specifically for Ethiopian food, Zeret should be an easy search online, since it’s quite high on the Ethiopian hotspots. So after finding its physical whereabouts (on the edge of a housing estate) we moseyed our way in like the locals we weren’t.
And the first thing that hits you is the sweet smell of spices fused with a mystic pong of incense. Meanwhile your eyes can’t help but admire the small, effective touches of the traditional and domestic African furnishings. It was as if we were invited to our wealthy African uncle’s house to dine with his family and experience his culture – I felt at home here – even though I’m not from here. The hospitality continued as the waitresses came to serve us, explaining each dish and answering our questions with warm smiles, charm and sincerity.
I was really excited about this one, since I’ve been wanting to try Ethiopian food for a LONG time. Luckily I didn’t’ go crazy on the orders, keeping things simple and traditional (plus despite the reasonable prices, we were warned about the portions!).
The Kategna seems to be Ethiopia’s garlic bread, yet if garlic bread and Kategna had a fight, Kategna would destroy! This bread is everything that garlic bread should be, perfectly lukewarm triangles of wheat flour flatbread, slightly under-cooked to give that moist and chewy texture, before lashing you with a mild lick of heat from the glazed chilli sauce, extremely moreish if you like a bit of spice. I almost bought a second round!
Then came the Zeret surprise, the signature and clear favourite of the evening, how do I know this? Because every other table in the room ordered the exact same dish! And with no surprise, since it involves the famed Ethiopian injera, a spongy and vinegary tasting flatbread. Its role was to mop up the nine assorted meats, veg and sauce from tender beef to creamy chickpea sauce (this I know because it’s quite horrible on its own). All toppings had been laid out beautifully on the rounded injera creating a vibrant and stunning looking dinner (we were snapping photos for a good ten minutes).
There were so many diverse and atypical flavours dancing from left to right on the plate and palate that I’d need to write a separate post! With the spiced mince sizzling over here and the creamy chickpeas shimmying over there, the injera doing the electric slide in the background. But I will say that the eating process was PHENOMENAL, you felt as if you were taking your taste buds to a whole new level with each mouthful, as your inner foodie processed this new and wonderful experience.
Thank god I didn’t order this as part of the meal. For takeaway, my curiosity pulled me to this other arousing dish like a chimp to a banana. Kitfo is another traditional Ethiopian dish containing raw beef seasoned with spiced butter and mitmita (an Ethiopian powdered seasoning), Zeret’s special version included home-made cheese and collard. The result on my tongue was a surprisingly zingy steak tartare boosted with the strong flavours of the cottagey cheese and the minty collard. Let’s just say this one is more of an acquired taste, picture me saying this while sitting on a very wobbly fence.
Zeret did its job of welcoming while wowing a newbie like me to the world of Ethiopian cuisine, the experience was wholesome instead of bland, warm instead of cold, memorable and not forgetful. Is it worth travelling all the way to Camberwell? – YES! This restaurant will not disappoint, and if it’s your first time like me then you’ll leave feeling fulfilled in more ways than one.