The first time I had Ethiopian food I was in college in Portland and didn't care for it. As far as I was concerned, it demonstrated the poverty of the country to me as it was all mush. Not a good first impression.
But one does grow older and wiser. Add to that the fact that people just rave about the Ethiopian food found in Sacramento at Queen of Sheba. I have yet to dine there myself, but recently did venture to another spot, Habesha on Fair Oaks Boulevard. I had bought a half-off coupon that was about to expire and so I invited Suzanne to join me for dinner.
Habesha is tucked away at the back corner of a strip mall behind Ettore's on Fair Oaks Boulevard. It's a casual place that has a counter and they sell everything from breakfast fare to smoothies. Apparently it had been a gyro cafe in a former life. We found a table and quickly noticed that the owner had printouts of the favorable Sacramento News & Review review under the glass of every table. Before I had arrived I had checked out the Yelp reviews to find them a mixed bag with most complaints about service. No such troubles were to befall us.
We decided to stick with the easy way out and ordered the combination platter shown at top. But to start, I couldn't pass up the lamb samosas. I prefer my samosas with meat versus vegetarian and these lamb ones were fantastic. They were filled with finely ground lamb that had a good amount of spicy heat to them. They were served with a cucumber sauce to cool your tongue down. This worked very well as they were the perfect counter to each other.
Our server was the owner and I asked him about the term Eritrea. He said it was a small country north of Ethiopia. It had been a part of Ethiopia until it gained its independence in 1993. The term "Habesha" refers to the people of that region.
The combination platter can be ordered as vegetarian or with meat. We ordered the meat version which came with lamb, chicken, and beef dishes. Around the sides of the platter were two different lentil dishes, green and yellow. There was a cabbage/potato one as well beside the small mound of simple salad (lettuce, onion, tomato with vinegar dressing). All of this was actually on top of a large piece of injera bread with two more pieces rolled up on a separate plate.
This platter was meant to be communally, meaning that everyone just eats from the platter versus scooping onto a personal plate. Suzanne was concerned about making a mess and did request plates, although we did properly eat the meal with our hands and without utensils.
To assist in scooping up the mushier lentils and sauces, you utilize the injera.
Made out of teff flour, the owner explained that it ferments overnight like sourdough. It is then ladled onto a round pan and it bubbles up into a pillowy soft flat bread. You tear off pieces of the injera and use it to scoop up the food.
I found that this time around I really enjoyed food. I can't remember back 25 years, but perhaps I had only had the vegetarian fare back then. No matter. This time I really enjoyed the meal. Each of the dishes was full of spicy flavor. For those who aren't into spice, be warned. Not that this is super hot, but the spices are complex and robust.