By Nancy Tannler
Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine
2625 SE 21st Ave.
The newly-opened Abyssinian Kitchen features Ethiopian and Eritrean Cuisine and is a welcome culinary delight to SE Portland. Elsa Wolday, her husband Kaflom Abbay and sister Azeb Yisieri are happy to be here after looking for several years for the just right location to open their restaurant.
Elsa and Kaflom have three children and, now that the youngest is in high school, Elsa has time to pursue her dream. “I love to cook and have always wanted to share my passion with more people,” she said. Sister Azeb had been on board to do a restaurant with Elsa and recently moved from Arizona where other members of their family live, to be part of the crew. They call the restaurant their home away from home.
The sisters were born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but immigrated to Toronto when they were young. Their father was an employee of the American Embassy and retired in Arizona. Kaflom also immigrated from Ethiopia to Toronto where he met Elsa. He is employed by Hewlett Packard and was transferred to the northwest in 2007.
The menu represents the traditional food of their native country. In keeping with the sustainable trend of today, they use locally-sourced produce, ethically-raised meat and authentic spice blends made in house. Elsa is sensitive to the gluten free and vegan crowd and prepares several selections or available substitutions to accommodate these diners.
Injera, the wonderful, spongy bread used to scoop up the different dishes is made of 75 percent teff, sorghum, barley and a small amount of all purpose flour. Kuflom explained that teff is more of a seed than a grain and although there is a minimal amount of flour used there isn’t much gluten in the injera. It is the national dish of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced this type of food the Beyaynetu or combo platter is a good place to start. This includes, stewed yellow lentils, seasoned collard greens, spicy red lentils, mixed vegetables and injera. A lot of Ethiopian food is vegetarian so there are a lot of options like the Shiro b’Tsahli, a vegetarian dish of ground, roasted chickpeas simmered in a clay pot. Azeb’s favorite is the Kitfo’ – marinated and minced lean beef, mitmita spice, herb infused clarified butter and the fresh soft Ayb cheese they make in house. Lamb, chicken and fish are featured dishes.
Interestingly, Ethiopians have a coffee ceremony similar to the Japanese tea ceremony. Kaffa (Kefa) is a province on the southwestern side of Ethiopia. The etymology of Kaffa is apparently from Arabic qahwah, ‘a drink from berries’ and the Coffea plant is a native to subtropical Africa. They serve traditionally roasted and brewed Ethiopian coffee, Yirgacheffe. A local roaster specializes in this brand. Another popular beverage is Tej, an Ethiopian honey wine.
An especially delightful way to end the meal is with the coffee or spicy tea and a piece of either tiramisu, baklava, pound cake or chocolate rum cake.
The Abyssinian Kitchen is a place where you can savor authentic Ethiopian food and expand your culinary experience.