Although foods from the Middle East and Asia have been popular for years, African cuisine is just starting to make a name for itself in the world of foodies and fast-food lovers alike. Ethiopian cuisine bridges the gap between basic and gourmet.
Expect vibrant colors and rich spices in hearty vegetable and meat stews called wat. The foundation of Ethiopian meals revolve around injera, a flatbread diners use like a spoon or scoop to savor every bite of this delicious cuisine.
Sacramento’s population will soon become more familiar with these robust dishes, but until the mainstream restaurant industry takes hold, take a taste of these awesome area originals.
Hours: Mon to Thurs – 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri – 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sat – 12 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sun – 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Queen Sheba is located in the downtown area near the corner of Broadway and 17th, nestled among several other popular ethnic neighborhood eateries. Owned by siblings Eskinder and Zion Taddese, Queen Sheba has brought Sacramento residents quality Ethiopian food since 2003.
Ethiopian meals are consumed communally: Food is shared on a single plate as diners use the injera bread to scoop up food. Injera is a spongy flatbread that has a bit of sourness in its taste and works well to gather the food and absorb its spices and flavors. Under the food on the plate lies another piece of injera often considered the lining or the tablecloth. Once it has been finished, diners know the meal is over. Queen Sheba sticks true to traditions found in Ethiopian dining, serving food in the communal manner, with patrons finishing their meals by eating the injera found under the dish.
Enjoy a glass of honey wine, an Ethiopian specialty often made at home. Its taste is designed to complement the strong use of spices in the country’s dishes.
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Hours: Mon to Fri – 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sat – 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sun – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Owned by a local Eritrean, Habesha Restaurant serves a mixture of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Mediterranean cuisines. Habesha Restaurant aims to serve some of the best local African and Mediterranean cuisine available.
Eritrean cuisine is quite similar to Ethiopian cuisine with injera and hearty stews (tsebhi). Eritrean, however, also uses seafood. Ethiopia is a landlocked nation, but Eritrea lies on the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa. Like Ethiopian culture, coffee ceremonies and sweet honey wines are also seen in Eritrean culture. And, because there is such a close resemblance, restaurants like Habesha tend to serve both types of cuisine.
Look for traditional specialties made with Berbere, an Ethiopian seasoning that is made from red peppers, garlic and other spices. It is typically dried in the sun, combined with other spices and used to make stews. Another staple is Nitir Kibe, purified butter served with condiments, traditionally used in sauteed dishes.
If you’re hoping for the perfect spot to enjoy a hearty Ethiopian dinner and lounge around for a bit afterward, Habesha is your best bet because it also offers hookah pipes. Enjoy a communal Ethiopian meal and then relax with friends over flavored tobacco and a drink. Beer connoisseurs will take delight in the fact that Habesha Restaurant offers Meta, local Ethiopian beer, on its menu.
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Erin De Santiago is a freelance travel and food/wine writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. She is a regional membership coordinator for the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and writes for a number of publications in addition to publishing her own blogs. She has traveled to over 40 countries on five continents in search of the best food and wine around the globe. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.