IN the Tees Valley’s only Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant, there’s no cutlery. The table’s bare where a knife and fork should be.

Instead, when the bebaynetu – the large plate laden with loads of tastes – arrived at the Salam restaurant in the centre of Middlesbrough, it was accompanied by injera, a grey, fermented, spongey, flatbread that looked like the chef has left old, rolled up dishcloths on the plate.

You unroll the injera, tear off a piece and use it with your fingers – properly of your right hand only – to scoop up a handful of the traditional stews from the plate.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The injera at Salam in Middlesbrough

To our Darlington eyes, injera is unusual, although it is commonplace across another continent. It is made from teff flour, which comes from a grass that grows in east Africa, to which water is added. This batter is allowed to ferment for a couple of days before being spread on a circular hotplate, like a crepe.

It is several millimetres thick, with a springy constituency with bubbly holes in it so that it looks like that expanding foam that you spray into holes around pipes and allow to solidify. A part from a slight vinegary aftertaste, it doesn’t have much of a flavour – it is merely a means of transferring food from the plate to your face.

It doesn’t interfere with the tastes of the stews, and because it is slightly absorbent, it doesn’t allow any dribbles.

But the spongey texture and the brushed steel colour – grey does not look appetising – are alien to people brought up with a fork in one hand and a knife in the other, and they rather freaked my daughter out and she didn’t really enjoy our meal.


Darlington and Stockton Times: The plate with three vegetarian dishes and two meat dishes in the centre, with plenty of rolls of injera

Between the four of us we had ordered two large plates – bebaynetu seems to be the correct word here – which each contained five dishes laid on a large injera: one with five meat dishes (£25), the other with three vegetarian dishes (£23). These were tasters from the main dishes on the menu which are up to £10 each.

In we scooped.

Eritrea and Ethiopia are part of the Horn of Africa, over the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, where the staple food seems to be hearty stews, known as tsebi (although there are lots of English spelling variants), containing slow cooked beef and lamb in thick, rich sauces usually containing berbere – an Ethiopian spice mixture – with a few onions for good measure.

I thought them really tasty with the flavour of the beef or lamb easily identifiable.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The meat plate at Salam for two, with the dorho - two chicken legs and a hard boiled egg in a thick, dark sauce, in the centre

Theo, our son, was sharing the meat bebaynetu with me. At the centre of it was Ethiopia’s national dish: dorho. Two chicken legs in a dark, thick, sticky sauce with a whole, hard boiled egg. The meat fell easily from the bones but it was overpowered by this remarkable, rich berbere-based sauce which, in a small dose, was very good, but too concentrated, too powerful, for me to consume too much.

Although chillies are a component part of berbere, the dorho was the only dish where there was a lot of heat.

Also on our bebaynetu was a light-coloured chicken stew which seemed to have an Oriental influence. It didn’t correspond to anything on the menu but contrasted with the darkness of the dorho. It was wonderful.

The vegetarian-inclined bebaynetu (a completely vegetarian or vegan plate was available) included the beef and lamb stews, plus a Bombay-style potato dish, a slightly disappointing pureed yellow split pea dish that didn’t really taste of anything, and a lovely concoction of cabbage and green beans that may have been called Hamli.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Inside Salam in Middlesbrough, the only Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant in the Tees Valley

In truth, our pleasant waitress wasn’t able to translate the details of what we were eating into English and, sadly, I have no knowledge of the nine languages of Eritrea or the 109 of Ethiopia to be able to meet halfway – there was a large TV on the wall showing a cable channel which appeared to have writing in the Amharic script, but I’m guessing here at what we were seeing just as I am guessing at what we were eating.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Salam, on a wet, cold Middlesbrough November night

We were dining on a miserable Middlesbrough night, the outline of the BBC Tees complex just visible through the cold rain, and were fortunate to pick a seat by the electric fire. There was no means of drying your hands in the gents where the toilet rocked when you flushed it – it was that sort of place, and our mark for surroundings contains a bonus point because the only thing on the table was a box of toothpicks, which are vital for my ageing teeth when eating slow cooked meat.

For all the lack of finesse, Salam felt authentic. It is a family run restaurant that has been open since 2016, and it clearly serves its community well as they made up all the customers when we were there, expertly dipping in their right hands to create parcels of injera.

It hasn’t been sanitised into a chain of African themed restaurants where the injera is cleaned up into an artisan sourdough for English tastes, and it felt a real privilege to be treated to a dorho on home turf. The tasty stews felt genuine and wholesome and our bill, with soft drinks, came to a very reasonable £64 for four, especially as there was plenty of food.

The idea of the injera being the base of bebaynetu is that it soaks up all the delicious juices and spices from the stews. When all the meat and vegetables are gone, you have a wipe round and eat-up so that nothing is wasted, although by then at least three of us were so full we couldn’t manage even a wafer thin piece of injera.

86, Newport Road, Middlesbrough TS1 5JD
Tel: 01642-973883

Surroundings 5
Service 6
Food quality 7
Value for money 8