Friday, May 16, 2014

Ethiopia in Los Angeles

It's been a long while since I've done a restaurant review. It's because I don't eat out that much anymore, as you know, and when I do, it's just some little taco place or Thai restaurant in the neighborhood - nothing really too out of the ordinary. But I wanted to tell you about my experience in Los Angeles last weekend.

There is this section along Fairfax Avenue just south of San Vicente that I have travelled past for many years. It isn't more than a few blocks long and it was established in the late 1980's with a single restaurant. After a little while other business people flocked to the area to open shops themselves nearby when they saw how successful this one restaurant had been. Eventually the area became well-known as an Ethiopian hangout and in 2004 the mayor coined it "Little Ethiopia". 

Every time I would drive by this unique little neighborhood I would tell myself that "some day" I would have to stop and explore it. Of course, as most things go, that day just never seemed to present itself, until recently.

I was invited to join a group of former co-workers and their friends at that very first restaurant I mentioned earlier, which was then, and still is, called Rosalind's. 

The group meets there quarterly and is a collection of former work associates, their friends or spouses, or fellow volleyballers. The one woman who connects all of us is, no surprise, Ethiopian, and it was she who we deferred to when it came time to order dinner.

She ordered a sampler platter that allowed us to try a variety of specialties, both vegetable and meat.

A typical presentation

This sampler was served on a large round platter on top of Ethiopia's staple, Injera, a unique unleavened flatbread made of teff. I had heard of teff but had never tried it.

Teff is an African cereal that is cultivated almost exclusively in Ethiopia, used mainly to make flour and out of this flour comes Injera.  Injera is the national dish. It's a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture.  It's used as not only the starch of the meal, but the utensil as well, for Ethiopians don't eat with fork and knife. They eat with their hands, using Injera to scoop up the food. 

Ethiopian dining is therefore a very communal event! You can't be shy, either, or you'll get the leftovers after everything has been picked through. You have to just dive right in.

But let me not get ahead of myself. The first course was a simple salad dressed lightly with lemon juice and maybe a little oil. 

Then came the platter, which contained vegetables dishes such as a carrot and cabbage combination, green beans with onions, pureed chickpeas, lentils and sauteed collard greens. The meats included lamb and beef which I didn't have (not my thing) which was fine because there was a chicken and hard-boiled egg dish that I fell madly in love with. Called Doro Wot, it has a very unique spice blend as a base for the sauce, cooked with pureed onions, garlic and chicken broth. Super-delicious. And of course, I was immediately compelled to make it myself.

But let me finish with the dinner. When we had eaten the meal, our waitress came by with a smoking pan of green coffee beans. She passed the pan under our noses so we could enjoy the smell of roasting coffee beans. She then took the beans back into the kitchen and ground them and then returned with a pot of freshly brewed coffee served in little cups much like espresso. It was divine. Alongside the coffee drinking we had burning frankincense, which is part of the "coffee ceremony". (Trivia question: where did coffee originate?)

After we were stuffed to the gills, our Ethiopian friend took us a few doors down to a market with all sorts of African items for sale. I was particularly interested in seeing the spices and food products and my friend showed me which spice blend to buy to make this incredibly flavorful sauce. It's a red chili pepper blend but contains over 14 different spices. I scoured the internet (of course) for recipes for Doro Wat and found several. This one, though sounds exactly like how the technique was described to me, so I'm going to try this one.

I found it on a pretty cool-looking website called Food Republic. I'm going to just insert the link to it here. Nice picture of it, too!

I'll let you know how it goes.

But if you're ever driving along Fairfax and you come across this part of town, I do encourage you to get out and explore and perhaps eat at one of the local establishments in Little Ethiopia.

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