Nunu Ketgela of Nunu Fine Ethiopian
Ethiopian food gets under your skin, so to speak, and when you want it, you really really want it. When we really want it, we go to Nunu Fine Ethiopian on Queen Street West, just a few blocks from the Art Condos building.
This bright and attractive eatery is owned and operated by Nunu Ketgela and her husband, Chris Rampen—who met his wife during a stint in Ethiopia as a cinematographer and sound recordist for a documentary film unit. It is Chris who points out to us that Nunu (her name means “come, come,” which seems hospitable) actually studied with a Cordon Bleu chef in Kenya.
We believe it.
In the short video that follows, Nunu discusses food preparation, talks about coming to Canada and about the nature of Ethiopian food in particular.
While there is a full and fascinating menu to be sampled and—we promise you—savored at Nunu’s, we tend to order the same dish every time we’re there—because it is just so mouthwateringly delicious: Nunu’s vegetarian platter for two.
Maybe this doesn’t sound pulse-quickening, but you’ve never in your life tasted such vegetables! First of all, everything on this bountiful platter is set out in deft little mounds and clumps and gatherings on a sort of carpeting of overlapping sheets of injera, injera being a soft, thin, slightly spongy, yeast-risen flatbread made from Ethiopian teff flour. Injera batter is allowed to ferment for a few days before being baked into large, flat, thin, essentially crepe-like pancakes. The finished injera is smooth on the bottom, porous and bubbly-looking on the top, and possesses a compellingly sweet-sour, nutty-grainy taste that is absolutely unforgettable.
Nunu’s platter of warm injera sheets is archored at the middle by a piquant salad, the secret of the indescribably delicate and insinuating dressing being one she carefully keeps to herself (we can tell you it is topped by crispy, carmelized onions)
The small mounds of intensely flavoured vegetables that encircle the salad vary, but are most often several kinds of lentils, chickpeas, potato, carrot, beets (such beets!), collard greens and more, all of them quickened by highly skillful seasoning—that seems to consist centrally of an essential Ethiopian spice called berbere—a mix of red chili, salt, garlic and who knows what else. Nunu says she cannot buy berbere here, so she orders it from Ethiopia.
After dinner, we got chatting to Nunu’s husband, Chris Rampen, who offered us a very special cocktail (“which I ought really to have offered you before dinner,” Chris laughed)—Nunu’s Tej cocktail, a moment of “classic Ethiopian hospitality”, which Chris describes as a sort of Ethiopian Tom Collins. The long cool drink, which is a golden, honey colour, is indeed imbued with honey—honey wine, carmelized honey, as well as shot though with pear puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, something called gesho (which is sort of like hops), plus lime and rum. It was like drinking a sunset.
Nuni Fine Ethiopian is at 1178 Queen Street West