Get to Know D.C.’s Ethiopian Food Scene

New residents might be surprised to learn that Washington, D.C. has one of the largest Ethiopian populations outside of Africa. This means plenty of opportunities to take advantage of quality and authentic Ethiopian cuisine at restaurants right in our backyard.

Many of these restaurants are centered around the U Street and Shaw neighborhoods, though you can find them in many sections of the city. Some of my favorite spots are Zenebech, Dukem and Ethiopic.

I remember the first time I tried it as a college student at American University. A group of friends and I traveled across town for our first Ethiopian feast. I traveled a while to get to the restaurant (hey, we had to take Metro), but the food was even more of a departure than anything I was used to before.

I learned that Ethiopian food was – and still is –  some of the most unique and also most flavorful food you can try. It’s centered around basic proteins like beef, lamb, chicken and fish, and a variety of vegetables and spices. Meals are often served family style and enjoyed without silverware. Ethiopian cuisine also tends to be filling and very budget-friendly. A couple of a group can easily order a few dishes to split without breaking the bank.

Delicious as it is, Ethiopian food is definitely a little adventurous, and you might not know what to order when you first run across it. But that shouldn’t be a deterrent. Some of the names might sound ridiculous, but they taste great. Here a few dishes for first-timers to look out for:

gored gored

Gored Gored: This dish consists of chunks of beef served with butter, herbs and Ethiopian spices. The meat is traditionally served totally raw, but you can usually order it lightly or more cooked to suit your preference.

injera

Injera: The meal is always centered around injera, a spongy sourdough flat bread. You don’t use silverware at Ethiopian restaurants, so this bread is the vehicle for sopping up all of the great meats, vegetables and sauces that are coming your way. Dishes are dumped on top of a bed of injera, and there’s always extra on the side to eat with.

kitfo

Kitfo: Raw beef, anyone? Kitfo is a raw dish and basically a minced Ethiopian beef tartar. I’ve eaten the dish several times and been fine, but it’s certainly for the more adventurous eaters.

tibs

Tibs: Tibs is one of the more basic Ethiopian dishes, and a good option for picky or hesitant eaters. Tibs consists of grilled chunks of meat (usually beef or lamb) mixed with grilled vegetables like onions, tomatoes and hot peppers. Spice levels vary, but there’s usually also a heavy dose of berbere. If you really want to turn up the heat, look for Awaze Tibs.

wot

Wot: Wot is essentially a curry stew. Doro wot is made with chicken, onions, hard-boiled eggs and tons of berbere, a traditional and somewhat spicy Ethiopian spice mix. Key wot is another version, made with beef instead.

These dishes are just a few common choices that can be found at most any Ethiopian restaurant. If you can’t decide, order up a combo platter. Make sure to also supplement these great main dishes with an order or two of tasty vegetables. These usually include things like yellow split peas, lentils, collard greens or tomato salad.

And my number one rule when dining at an Ethiopian restaurant is that nothing goes to waste – not even the injera at the bottom of the meal. That’s where all the most delicious spices, juices and flavors end up!

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