Eat Ethiopian Tonight (Including some Seattle Recommendations)


When time turns to thoughts of lunch (for me, that is usually before breakfast), one of my first dreams is always of a good Ethiopian combo plate. If you are a vegetarian and haven’t tried this cuisine, you should run, not walk! It has everything you could want: it is crazy cheap, filling, nutritious, super-tasty, and there are lots of 100% veggie options.

The basic starch of Ethiopian food is a bread called injera. It is traditionally made from teff flour, not wheat so it could be good for folks who don’t eat gluten – but be sure and ask because apparently some restaurants substitute part or all wheat. The dough is fermented and then baked into big, holey, spongy and slightly sour flatbreads which can be served warm or at room temperature. As you can see in the picture above, one injera is always served under the food, as a sort of delicious plate that soaks up the flavors and is savored last. A bunch more injera are served on the side to scoop everything up.

Ethiopian food is almost always served family style, with a big plate in the middle, and you eat with your hands and the bread. Of course if you really want individual entrees and a spoon to eat with, I’m sure they’ll take care of you, but a lot of the joy is in the communal meal. Naturally kids love this. The grownups are eating with their hands! Customarily you use only your right hand to eat (reserving the left for less sanitary purposes). Believe me, that is much easier to do with nice soft injera to tear than it is in India, where the nan requires a deft maneuver

As to the dishes themselves, the basic vegetarian items are usually a few types of lentil stews (wots), some mild (alicha) and some deeply spiced, long-cooked greens, cabbage and potatoes, and a salad. There are usually a few other vegetable choices, and maybe a different salad of torn up injera and tomatoes which is a type of fit-fit that can be quite nice. At least until you become familiar with the dishes, you should go for a veggie combo plate. Individual entrees are usually around 8 bucks, but the combo plate you see pictured above (at Assimba) is $11 and is easily enough for two meals (or to feed two people at one sitting).

I believe the vegetarian dishes and the injera are all vegan as well, but if that is important to you, be sure and ask.

Many US cities have concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants and their restaurants. Seattle is especially lucky in this regard. On and near Cherry Street between say 12th and Martin Luther King are at least eight options. Below you will see my current favorites. The food is great at all of them. Ras Dashen is the newest and has the nicest decor. Meskel has a lovely deck for eating outside in the summer. Assimba has great flavors and is really fast, and Cafe Selam across the street is tiny and homey, with really warm folks running the place. They also do breakfast, which is another realm of deliciosity with fascinating bowls of fool beans with eggs and tomatoes and crusty french rolls. But I digress!

Assimba Ethiopian Cuisine in Seattle Cafe Selam in Seattle
Ras-Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant in Seattle Meskel in Seattle

Print Friendly and PDF
Posted by Michael Natkin on Saturday, November 10th, 2007 in Restaurants, Vegan or Modifiable.

7 Responses to “Eat Ethiopian Tonight (Including some Seattle Recommendations)”

  1. Reply
    November 10, 2007 at 6:15 am #

    Hi and thanks for cool site. I haven’t been here before, but your Ethiopian article caught my attention. I’m ashamed (almost) to say I’ve never had Ethiopian food, yet I’ve heard a lot of nice things about it. Come think about it, the African food section in my recipe collection is terribly blank.

  2. Reply
    November 10, 2007 at 11:15 am #

    Yum!!! I *love* vegetarian Ethiopian food. My husband and I get a strong hankering often, but we haven’t lived closer than an hour or two to good Ethiopian places, in a while. Turns out, we have the distinct pleasure of going to a place with my aunt in Oakland tomorrow. I had been looking forward to it, and then, as an appetizer, I saw your picture on Tastespotting. We tried to make injeera a few times, to no avail. I think most American Ethiopian places predominently use wheat flour and a little teff, because our was quite a bit darker than the color we get at restaurants. Anyway, I could sing the praises of red lentils and injeera all day, but I’ll stop now. Thanks for the fun informative post!

  3. Reply
    November 10, 2007 at 8:25 pm #

    Oh, I love Ethiopian food. I have never been to this one but based on the pictures and your review, it sounds really good!

  4. Reply
    November 10, 2007 at 10:52 pm #

    Yeah, I also think many places use wheat instead of teff, probably because they can’t find it or it is more expensive. I’ve tried to make it, and used wheat flour and soda water, which works okay. Better than the three day method involving teff–that was a disaster!

    Anyway, that is a great photo of Ethiopian food, better than the descriptions I’ve tried to give people. I’ll send ’em here instead!

  5. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    November 11, 2007 at 3:42 am #

    Thanks for the info about places using wheat instead of teff, I’ll amend the info in the article so we don’t send anyone gluten intolerant to eat without asking!

  6. Reply
    November 13, 2007 at 11:02 am #

    When we lived in San Francisco area we were spoiled with the amazing Ethiopian restaurants. Telegraph Ave in Berkeley/Oakland is lined with them. Our favorite was Cafe Colucci where everything tasted fresher and better seasoned than its nearby competitors. To me, one of the ways to tell the quality of the eatery was by the injera- if it was white and rubbery then the food would probably be geared towards an American palette, not its indigenous clientèle. Most ethnic restaurants have some sort of signal dish that lets you know how authentic it is. Now that I’m closer to Sacramento there are a couple decent palces here, one with an all-you-can eat lunch buffet. It’s not the best, but you can’t beat the price for what you get. DC is supposed to have a strong Ethiopian population too.

  7. Reply
    February 11, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks for this recipe. We make both Syrian and Ethiopian lentil soup in our house. Our housekeeper makes the ethiopian version and I’ll be happy to have your recipe on hand when she is no longer with us. I love the Syrian version but the Ethiopian takes lentils to a whole new level.

Leave a Reply