Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Ethiopian Restaurant

Acting upon a reliable tip, E and I went to an Ethiopian restaurant downtown. It had opened a year ago and has already earned a reputation for good food. I was looking forward to having their version of the chai as well as a dish which my informant had told me about: shimbra assa which is made of chickpeas and cooked to resemble fish stew. Those were his very words, and I was immediately intrigued by the description. I was reminded of the artistry that Asian cooks employ when molding tofu into replicas of meat dishes that I have encountered in vegetarian restaurants catering to Buddhists. The resemblances of these ersatz meats to their authentic counterparts are amazing in both appearances and taste. Thus, I wonder if the shimbra assa would be similarly concocted.

We trudged into the restaurant on one of the coldest days of the year and were ready for a pot of hot tea; our waitress indicated to us that the tea was an infusion of cardamon and other spices found in chai, brewed with Lipton tea. I was a little disappointed to hear that the tea was not loose leaf but brightened up when it was brought out; the tea glasses and pot were carried out with friendly ceremony on a tray, set out daintily in front of us, and the tea poured out.

The tea did taste a little bland as expected but this was an apt counterpoint to the shimbra assa and the side of collards redolent of garlic. As I bit into the tuber-like shimbra asssa, I can't say that I was reminded of a fish stew. It was more like a robust sweet potato, with multitudes of spices commingling with harmony. The slightly insipid tea permitted the flavors of the food to shine. We used the injera bread, made of the teff grain, native to Ethiopia, in lieu of utensils to not so neatly scoop up the food.

And then it was time for dessert - which will not be bypassed despite my feeling full. There was only baklava on the menu but that was fine by me as I have always felt that this was a dish that was justifiably contested by many cultures as to its provenance and authenticity. A sweet this rich and honey-dripping deserves this much controversy.

Despite E's avowal of abstaining from dessert, he did end up having half of my baklava. With the phyllo dough's buttery taste in my mouth, I finished my tea with pleasure.

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