Eat with your hands!

So The Boyfriend has been wanting to try Abyssinian Restaurant on Farmington Ave. in Hartford for some time. I’ve been putting him off because it claims to be “Ethiopian and Eritrean food” and I was still somewhat confused from childhood warnings about “starving children in Ethiopia who would love to have your lima beans.” So, if they are starving–to the point of actually wanting my nasty beans–what in God’s name do they actually eat? But, once again, trying to be a good girlfriend, I acquiesced.

Abyssinian is located in a strip near Tisane on Farmington Avenue–an area I was familiar with from when I went to UCONN Law (before I quit). Now, it can be a rather colorful neighborhood after dark. This was apparent as a guy “helped” us parallel park and then immediately asked for a dollar as soon as we exited the car. Then, an older African American gentleman carrying many bags and in need of a bath shook his cane at The Boyfriend yelling, “You don’t make a lady walk behind you! You walk behind her, young man!” He was apparently more confused than I’d thought, if he thought I was a lady. He followed us into the restaurant a few minutes later and began speaking to a couple sitting at the table. The restaurant proprieter quietly opened the front door for the man and he made his way out. Must be a regular occurrence.

So it was an amusing experience before we’d even sat down.

The place was quiet and clean with high ceilings and dim, but not too dark lighting. The menu…well, it confused me. Not being a big meat eater, I gravitated toward the veg items and decided on Shuro Wat–ground split peas in a berbere sauce, which is apparently traditional Ethiopian sauce made of chile powder and other spices.  Along with that came a choice of side veggies so I went with cabbage and potato cooked with garlic, ginger, and green pepper. The Boyfriend went with Doro Wot–chicken in berbere with onions, a special butter, cardamom and nutmeg. Not knowing what to expect, out came a giant pizza pan with “bread” on it and little scoops of the cabbage, some chickpeas and other “sides.” The bread is called injera, which is flat like a pancake and spongy, made of fermented “teff flour.” Our main dishes came in little bowls and smelled delicious, and a another plate of injera was set down.

As we stared at all of this like morons, the proprietor (because he wasn’t just a waiter!) asked if we had ever eaten Ethiopian before. Obviously not. He explained how you scoop the main dish onto the “pizza pan” of bread, tear a small piece of bread from the plate and lay it over the pile, pinch some of the stew up with it and eat it. So we went at it and it was delicious. Mine was creamy and buttery tasting with all kinds of flavors. The side dishes, except for the “salad” of iceberg lettuce, were all delicious also. I loved the spongy, light texture of the injera as well. At the end, the bottom piece of bread laying on the “pizza pan” has absorbed all the flavors of the food, so you are supposed to eat that last. It was awesome.

At the end, they bring you nice warm washcloths to get the mush off your fingers, but be ready for your fingers to smell a little spicy for some time after–even if you wash them several times.

The service was good, and the gentleman running the place was quiet but very nice and friendly. Prices were incredibly reasonable–an entree was under $10. It’s a small place, but I can imagine that if it got busy, service might slow down. It was definitely a fun and different experience–not to mention, incredibly tasty. It also wasn’t nearly as messy as I thought it would be, but definitely roll up your sleeves! Abyssinian gets two and a half salt shakers because, well, kicking utensils to the curb is pretty salty.

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2 comments

  1. I hadn’t even heard of this place! I’ve been wanting to try Ethopian for a long time. Will check it out in the near future hopefully. Thanks.

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  2. this sounds awesome, miss persuasion! i have just gotten into african fare via marcus samuelsson’s amazing african cookbook. i will be hitting this place up very soon.

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