I was in Washington DC for a day with a friend and I couldn’t pass up the chance to try some new food! The capital is well known for its high density and quality of Ethiopian food due to the large Ethiopian community there (strange that it’s biggest in DC and not elsewhere!). Ethiopic is known as one of the more authentic and upscale Ethiopian joints, with not just its food but also its artwork, drinks, and servers all native to the country.
If you’ve never had Ethiopian before, you’ll definitely need an explanation on how to eat before digging in! There’s no cutlery given with these meals. The staple starch of the cuisine is injera, a thin and large sour flatbread typically made from a type of grass called tef.
You rip a piece of the injera and grab a handful of the main dish, whether it’s a spicy meat or vegetable stew (known as a wot) or one of the many vegan dishes based on beans. The spongy texture of the injera really soaks up whatever sauce is present in stews, making for intensely flavored (and messy!) meals. One important lesson I learned: don’t bother wiping your hands after between dishes cause they’ll get messier in no time!
While I find many Ethiopian dishes have repetitive taste profiles, they really know how to cook their staples well, especially their stewed meats in spicy sauce. The attention to detail needed to reproduce such a distant culture in the food here was much appreciated. Now time for Roger’s learning experience with Ethiopian food!
Things Roger Ate (rather messily) like a Pig!
Complementary Bread – 2/6 (Okay)
- Whole wheat bread served with chili oil containing Ethiopian spices
Even though serving bread like this is not typical of Ethiopian meals, I feel like the owners decided to include it as a courtesy due to the restaurant’s relatively upscale ambiance. Plus it was a good introduction to the Ethiopian spiced chili oils! The bread itself was disappointing, as it didn’t seem very fresh or unique in any way.
The chili oil had a mild hint of spices, although I think the true flavours of Ethiopian spices don’t come out strongly until the sauce is cooked (as you’ll see in my beef dish) hence this wasn’t a great representation of that.
Injera – 5/6 (Excellent), N/A
While this wasn’t a dish in itself, its importance in Ethiopian cuisine means I still have to rate it! This was a good litmus test for the quality of the dishes to come, and Ethiopic did really well. The injera had a consistent spongey texture that felt light in the mouth but was strong enough to hold the mains (for the most part).
Each piece was rolled up nicely and the thickness of the bread was very even. I loved the slight hint of sourness that not only complemented everything it was served with but even made eating the injera plain delicious!
Azifa – 3.5/6 (Good – Very Good), $7
- Lentil salad with red onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, and spices
All of the salads on the menu had starches with a similar taste composition to this, with the sour tastes of lemon juice mixed with the pungent onions and garlic and the heat of jalapenos and spices. All the flavours went really well together! One thing about Ethiopian food is that they don’t go light on the heat.
The jalapenos were quite prominent, but the sour flavours from the lemon juice and injera helped to balance that. The spices gave the dish a nice twist from the usual type of spiciness, although I can’t think of a better way to put that into words. The lentils though were steamed quite ordinarily and relied on the sauce for its taste.
Sega Key Wot – 5/6 (Excellent), $14 (lunch)/$16 (dinner)
- Chunks of prime beef sauteed in butter and simmered in hot berbere sauce seasoned with spices and herbs
This was a great quintessential Ethiopian dish! Wot means stew, which is usually based off simmered red onions. Key stands for the berbere spice blend, composed of chili pepper flakes with garlic, pepper, and unique Ethiopian spices, added to the stew. Finally, sega means beef in the Ge’ez language of northern Ethiopia.
I loved how spicy this was! It wasn’t straight chili oil or jalapeno type spicy though. It had an indescribable yet unique taste that I felt was closer to the Sichuan peppercorn type of spice as a basis for comparison. It had some bitterness in the spice rather than being purely numbly hot, and the spice on my tongue didn’t feel constant but changed over time as the bitterness went away and the more typical type of spicy became accentuated.
The flavours were well infused into the beef, which was made richer by the addition of butter into the sauce. However, I felt like the beef could have been more tender with a “fall-off-the-bone” type quality to make this dish perfect. I’ve had the doro key wot (with chicken instead of beef) here in the past too and I liked the texture of that meat better. Overall this was a great dish!
Pistachio Baklava – 2.5/6 (Okay – Good), $7
- Baklava with pistachio powder coated in syrup
What’s a baklava doing at an Ethiopian restaurant? Somehow baklava has managed to become quite prevalent as a breakfast-type sweet in Ethiopia, although I can’t think of an explanation for how it ended up there. Sweets typically aren’t eaten at the end of Ethiopian dinners, so I think they just took a traditional Ethiopian sweet and offered it at the end of meals.
However, I was disappointed with this version of baklava compared to the traditional Greek version. The shell of the pastry wasn’t very flaky and felt gummy with the syrup. The syrup used in Greek pastries usually isn’t dense enough to make the texture as gummy or take away from the crunch of the flaky skin.
There were a few pistachio crumbs sprinkled on top, but there wasn’t much nutty flavour in the interior of this dish. The interior of the baklava tasted too gummy much like the exterior. I can’t blame them too much for this though cause dessert is not a main part of a true Ethiopian meal.
Ethiopic is a fun and tasty experience for anyone wanting to try a new cuisine! It does a great job of showcasing the best of the cuisine in a really authentic manner. Just be prepared to take a bit of spiciness in the process!
Date visited: Oct. 14, 2012
Price range: $20 – $30