Saturday, October 4

Abysinnia Ethiopian Restaurant

Abysinnia Ethiopian Restaurant
5842 N Broadway
Entrees $7-$13, also serves Ethiopian-style breakfast

One of Chicago's blessings is the many ethnic neighborhoods--Greek, Polish, German, Indian, Ukranian--and the authentic food (and grocery stores) that can be found there. Edgewater is quickly becoming the destination for Ethiopian food, with Rasdashen, Demera, Lalibela, Ethiopian Diamond and many other restaurants. It would be easy to overlook Abysinnia, a small restaurant with a modest awning and humble decor. But it also seems to be the place where the locals come to eat, which is always a good sign. It is a family operation, and I couldn't help wondering whether our waitress was also one of the cooks.

The food was much like the restaurant--honest, understated, reminiscent of family. This is not a place to go expecting an overwhelming sensory experience, though that type of restaurant has its place. The tastes here were subtle, but lingering. Ethiopian food is eaten by scooping up food and its sauces in injera, a spongy flat bread on which the main dishes are served (this was once one of the later questions on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"). The gomen, collard greens, were perfectly cooked, still bright green, but only slightly bitter, enough to give a pleasant punch. Kik alicha, a dish made from yellow split peas, peppers, onions and garlic, was a gem of simplicity, with the delicate tastes of the split peas allowed to shine. Misir wat, red lentils, offered a pungent contrast, but also contained many surprising undertones. The specialty, shiro, powdered beans, had a wonderful texture. Although its seemed to me to be nothing special, the dish is an Ethiopian staple, and I imagine it is much loved by Ethiopians for reasons that have as much to do with memory as with anything else. The awazie tibs, beef cooked in tomato and jalapeno, was well made and delicious.

The meal ended with Ethiopian coffee, a source of pride among the restaurant owners and among Ethiopians more generally, for Ethiopia was where coffee was discovered. It was brought out in a beautiful teapot and a joy for both its rich fragrance and the air of ritual surrounding it.

-Ian Le