Located in a strip mall, Abyssinia, IN is a small place that does not boast of a very sophisticated and stylish ambiance but depicts the Ethiopian culture and traditions and gives a peek into the traditional arts and crafts. Our hostess, an Ethiopian woman clad in traditional wear, greeted us warmly and gave us the option to choose either a table or a massob. The child in me did pop up exactly at that moment and even before CJJ could open his mouth and express any hesitance, I grabbed a place around Massob, an Ethiopian communal serving basket made of woven grass and acts as a low table, surrounded by some stools and chairs for the diners. A picture of the Massob below:
Our hostess was a quite friendly and warm woman who was willing to answer all our doubts and also talk a bit about her culture and traditions. There was a coffee corner near our massob and she was quite excited to brief us about the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony; coffee drinking is an integral part of their social and cultural tradition practiced with lots of elaborate ceremonies and she explained how the woman of the neighborhood get-together and spread the grass on the floor to set the stage for the ceremony.....then roast the coffee beans on a charcoal burner and later brew them in a coffee pot, locally named Jebena and coffee is accompanied by some snacks like peanuts or popcorn. The coffee corner in the restaurant reflected all the elements of this tradition with a small low table, kept on a mat, woven with grass, with the charcoal burner on the side and Jebena, the coffee pot and the china clay cups and a plate of popcorn placed on the table! A picture of the coffee corner below: -
We felt the menu had more options for non-vegetarians, though they had a section for vegetarian dishes with lentils, leafy vegetables, potatoes etc. The carnivores that we are did not really bother to order much from the vegetarian section. We started with an appetizer, Yesiga Sambusa, a pastry stuffed with spiced ground beef ($2). It was nothing but our own Indian Meat Samosa but let me state here, it was the best Sambusa or I should say the best beef Samosa I have ever had in my life ! Once we finished the Sambusa, I started having some doubts on the similarities between the Ethiopian food and Indian food, as I had already read somewhere that Ethiopian food is eaten with hands; all my doubts turned positive once the main dishes arrived. Our orders, Yedoro Wett, ($8.99) chicken marinated in lemon and sautéed in herbed butter, stewed in berbere sauce (an Ethiopian spice mixture) with onion, garlic and ginger root, served with hardboiled eggs and some Ethiopian yogurt; Sega Wett, ($9.95) tender beef pieces cooked in berbere sauce and seasoned with spices and herbs; Yebeg Alecha, ($9.99) a lamb dish stewed in herbed butter with onions, garlic and ginger roots; Yemisir Wett, ($5.50) red split lentils cooked in berbere sauce and fine herbs and one more yellow lentil dish, were served on a large plate lined with Enjera bread, a crepe like sour and spongy flatbread and the entire platter was placed on the Massob. Enjera (Also written as Injera) to Ethiopians is what rice is to Asians; it’s quite bland on its own, made with teff, a tiny, round grain that flourishes in the highlands of Ethiopia. Personally I felt it’s something very similar to the Palappam we get in Kerala and though the ingredients are different, both require fermentation and both have airy and bubbly texture. Our hostess explained how Enjera is fermented and she also pointed out that though only teff flour is used in Ethiopia for making this bread, here in US they have modified their recipes and add wheat flour too as teff is a bit costly here. Enjera is not only an ‘edible table-cloth’ but also a utensil to scoop up the dishes and pop it on your mouth. The spiciest in our plate was the chicken dish, Yedoro Wett and it was tangy and sour too. Our personal favourite, Sega Wett, reminded us of the beef preparation in Kerala and Yebeg Alecha resembled the mutton stew :) More rolls of Enjera were served along with the platter. We did not find much choice at the dessert section though they had some Ethiopian tea and beer in the beverages. Pricing was reasonable too.
For westerners, tearing a piece of enjera, dipping and scooping up the dish and eating the meal with fingers, may seem a bit strange, but what was strange to me was the way it was served and eaten; the Ethiopian culture encourages communal eating and hence, everyone dips into the same platter and share the food !! Yes, the snob in us might wonder about all the hygienic aspects but according to the Ethiopian culture, it’s a belief that those who share and eat the food from the same plate, do not cheat each other and hence it’s considered a way of promoting bond of friendship and loyalty. Though sitting on high chair and bending onto the massob to scoop up the food was a bit uncomfortable for us, it was definitely a truly and unforgettable experience. A picture of our platter below. Click on the picture for an enlarged view.
To sneak a quick look into the Ethiopian arts and crafts that were displayed at Abyssinia, IN, please click on the picture to start the slide show.
After enjoying the exotic food as well as tasting a rich cultural experience too, on our way back home, CJJ popped up the interesting and the expected question, "So ....what do you think....shouldn’t we travel to Ethiopia once....:) ? " Yes, that was one more addition to the long list of the places we want to visit :)