2/17/17—If there’s one type of cuisine that DC is known for more than any other city, it’s Ethiopian food. DC’s Ethiopian community is the largest in the US. Historically, the presence of the Ethiopian embassy and the large African-American community in DC have made it an attractive prospect for Ethiopian immigrants, many of whom came over as refugees during times of oppressive political regimes in their home country. The rest of the city’s residents have been fortunate to reap the cultural and culinary benefits of having this population call our town “home.”
For those who are unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, the staple is a spongy, porous, crepe-like bread called “injera.” It is traditionally made from teff flour, a grain native to Ethiopia, and water. The teff flour and water mixture is fermented for several days, which gives the bread a tangy flavor. This bread is used as both the plate and the utensils for an Ethiopian meal—diners are expected to use the injera to scoop up vegetable and meat stews, which are served on top of another piece of the injera.
I had lived in the DC area for my entire life and somehow managed to never try Ethiopian cuisine. I knew this had to change, so I invited my friends Karen and Kaz to dine with me at Dukem on U Street. We got settled at a table in the casual dining area one Friday evening and began our Ethiopian food journey.
We started by ordering a bottle of the traditional Ethiopian honey wine and a plate of sambusas (crispy pastry shell filled with cooked ingredients). We tried one each of the spinach sambusa, mixed vegetable sambusa, and chicken sambusa. The spinach and mixed vegetable were quite good; the chicken one was a bit dry. The honey wine was incredibly sweet, reminiscent of a moscato. Although I am not usually a fan of sweet wines, it did end up being refreshing when paired with the spicy stews that came with our meal.
Karen ordered the veggie platter, and Kaz and I ordered a big, mixed platter to share. The “platters” were just a bunch of stews and salads served atop a piece of injera. Karen’s platter included spicy splint lentil, yellow peas, greens, cabbage, shiro, salad, and chickpeas in spicy sauce. Mine and Kaz’s platter included five of the items on Karen’s platter, plus key wot (spicy beef stew), doro wat (spicy chicken stew), minchet abesh (a finely chopped lean ground beef braised in milled ginger and garlic sauce), lamb tibs (cubed pieces of lamb, fried with onions, rosemary, and jalapeño), and house made cottage cheese. There was definitely a lot of kick to these stews, but the cottage cheese and honey wine helped to offset the spiciness. The injera was soft, moist, and delicious.
I had a ton of fun experiencing the Ethiopian way of dining, and really enjoyed the food. Now that I have finally knocked this item off my bucket list, I am excited to explore the many other Ethiopian food restaurants in the area to figure out which one is my favorite. I will say, however, that Dukem set the bar pretty high.