Late drizzly afternoon after running a few errands, a friend and I decided go to our default food joint, Café Asia for a late lunch. Out of courtesy, I asked if my friend preferred any other food. After a pause, the friend blurted out, “Ethiopian food”.
In minutes, we got on a bus and ventured out to the Mecca of Ethiopian cuisine in Washington DC called U Street neighborhood. We wanted authentic, scrumptious, quick and cheap Ethiopian food. On our way, we passed Dukem, which is actually named after a place in Ethiopia. Even though it’s considered one of the best Ethiopian restaurants in DC, it’s was out of our budget.
The friend suggested instead another affordable place styled more like café and mini-shop called, Habesha Market. The rumor has it that Habesha is owned by a brother or a cousin of Dukem’s owner – so same food but on a shoestring budget. Habesha is a word Ethiopians (and Eritreans) use to refer to themselves. Technically, Habesha people are semitic-speaking population of those countries who often trace their roots back to the Arabs.
After reaching Habesha, we settled on a comfortable café style seating. The place had open kitchen and a few rack full of Ethiopian food ingredients and other knick knacks.
Right away, we got started with bottled guava and mango bottled drinks from Egypt, called Mira. I chose guava because it is more difficult to find. The drinks seemed to be made from real fruits because I needed to shake to dissolve particles inside the bottles; just like in Odwalla juices.
Most of the entrée at Habesha were priced between $7.50 to 10.50. Two of us decided to go for a shared platter for $20, where you get small portions (according to the friend) of four entrées. Since I was off beef, we chose two lamb dishes, one chicken dish, and one vegetarian fare.
The meal was served in a platter with four entrée’s on the side and sauces in the middle. One sauce was, of course, the classic Ethiopian red chili spice blend, berbere, with hint of vinegar. Berbere usually includes chili pepper, coriander and other spices according to chef’s preference. Another was lesser known sauce called Senafitch, made with brown mustard and vinegar. On the top came a big pinch of hot spice mixture called Mitmita, which was hot but not superhot like sometimes. Mitmita is usually has African birdseye chili peppers, cardamom and cloves.
Injera. On separate plate came Injera, spongy and slightly tangy Ethiopian flatbread resembling crepe. Injera is made from flour of plant teff and regular wheat flour. Usually, Injera is fermented for couple of days and cooked at home. Now, it seems that expat Ethiopians don’t make Injera at home. Even a foodie Ethiopians find it more convenient and cheap to get Injera from stores than slave at home making them. Some of us still make cookies once-in-a-while from scratch even buying cookies wrapped in chips ahoy logo is easier, cheaper and probably tastier. So why not make Injera at home? I am really up for making Injera from scratch. Let me know if anyone wants to teach (or learn together) how to make Injera.
Doro Wot. Wot is any stew made by slowly simmering onions with berbere on spiced Ethiopian clarified butter, Niter kebbeh and Doro means chicken. Our Doro Wot sauce was great and showed endurance of a cook who had patience to cook slowly. However on flip side, our Doro Wot came with only one piece of chicken. I wish we had more chicken.
Habesha Tibs and Gir-Giro Special Tibs. Tibs are spiced sautéed meat or vegetables dish in Ethiopia. Both lamb tibs were made with sautéed onion, tomatoes, jalapeno, garlic, and sauce/spices. I couldn’t differentiate the taste between them – maybe one of them was slightly hotter than the another. Both of the dishes were spiced decently and were tender in spite of being cooked to well done. Since both tasted pretty much similar, I would not recommend ordering both of them together.
Lentils. I was pleasantly surprised with lentils. They were spiced perfectly with some sort of curry type spice. It reminded me of Guajarati dal (see my earlier post on the best lentil soup) because it tasted somewhat sweeter than usual.
I couldn’t believe that both of us could nearly finish the shared platter. I probably ate more than half of it and was so full that had to skip the dinner. Habesha was charming, affordable and had a decent food. I would not hesitate recommending it to anyone but myself would want to explore a different Ethiopian food places in DC. After all, Washington DC is home to the largest thriving Ethiopian community in the country.
Posted in: Food Culture - Travel and Food | Tags: African birdseye chili peppers, berbere, Doro, Doro Wot, Ethiopian food, Habesha Market, Injera, Injera from scratch, Mira Juice, Mitmita, Senafitch, Teff, Tibs