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Category Archives: Ethiopian

All Fired Up For Demera

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Hello and sorry everyone for the lull on Mastication Monologues, but I’m back with a fresh new post that is part of Restaurant Week that is now over in Chicago.  For those of you who don’t know, Restaurant Week in Chicago is a multiple week event where a multitude of eateries throughout Chicago open their doors to everyone with great deals.  In this post, I’d like to tell you a little bit about Demera, one of Chicago’s premier Ethiopian/Eritrean diner.IMG_5907

Janice and I went there for their lunch special, and the inside was brightly lit and bumping with some funky Ethiopian jamz. IMG_5888IMG_5889  We were quickly seated, and we had some trepidation with what to pick since everything sounded so delicious.  I started the meal off with a St. George Beer to drink.IMG_5891  Ethiopia is interesting enough since it is a mainly Christian society surrounded by Muslim nations, and some go on to even speculate that the Ethiopian people are descendants of one of the 12 lost tribes of Israel.   The name of the place, Demera, is the term in Amharic for the ceremonial bonfire used in the Ethiopian Christian version of Ash Wednesday, and we had a similar religious experience with the food.  However, the St. George Beer wasn’t very noteworthy since its neutral flavor and watery consistency left me hoping for the second coming of my food savior to resurrect my taste buds from the bland rapture. IMG_5890 Luckily, the beef sambussas and timatim selata did just that.  First, there were the beef sambussas that I could liken to a lighter version of empanadas.  IMG_5893The dough was less pie-like and more flaky and light like Greek philo dough.  The meat was spiced and amped up in terms of flavor with the spicy yet sweet yet dangerously addicting awaze sauce. IMG_5896IMG_5897 We also got an order of the timatim selata which I likened to an Ethiopian version of pico de gallo.IMG_5892  It consisted of tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno pepper slices all coated in a lime vinaigrette.  It was tangy and flavorful and was handily consumed (pun intended) with the ubiquitous Ethiopian flatbread known as injera.  While flatbreads can be found around the world in cultures that eat with their hands like naan in India or pita in Greece, injera is super unique in the sense that it is spongy with a slightly sour taste compared to its more doughy brethren.IMG_5900  Thankfully, it had plenty of nooks and crannies to soak up all of the lime juice but was also strong enough to enclose the large slices of tomato.  IMG_5894After polishing off that flavorful and refreshing appetizer, we got our main entree.  Traditional Ethiopian cuisine focuses on family style dining where everyone eats from the same plate.IMG_5901  On our plate, we got the ye-beg alicha  (mild lamb cubes), doro wat (chicken in a mild sauce with ayib cheese), ye-misir wot (split red lentils in spicy berbere sauce), and gomen (chopped collard greens).  With the spicy lamb, it was a great mix of spice and the slightly gamey taste that comes with lamb.  The doro wat chicken wasn’t as bold as the lamb, but the ayib cheese was like an African queso fresco that gave this savory part of the meal a cool and semi-salty twist.  IMG_5899I really enjoyed the split red lentils because they were super spicy, but I was mixed on the collard greens.  On the one hand, I enjoyed the earthy, spinach tones, but the ginger notes kind of left me cold on this hot entree.  Surprisingly, we had a bit of room for dessert, but we could only get the missionary delight, a basic vanilla sundae, because they apparently didn’t have enough ingredients for the dessert we wanted, the sambussa turnovers.  Super normal for a restaurant that serves food that isn’t on many peoples’ radars, but thankfully, our waitress told us that we could get the dessert we originally wanted, the turnovers.  What they consisted of were sweet versions of the savory sambussas we had earlier in the meal.IMG_5903  It was the same flaky dough, but instead of beef, there was a melange of walnuts, cardamom, walnuts, saffron, and rose water.  IMG_5904It reminded me of a honey-less baklava with an almost flowery aftertaste compliments of the rosewater.  The strawberry sauce was a bit too much of guilding the rose for me which made me prefer the savory version of these handheld treats.  At the end of the meal, we were absolutely stuffed but greatly pleased with Demera’s food selection.

So if you’re tired of the same old restaurants serving foods you’ve heard of before, check out a red-hot slice of Ethiopia at Demera.

Demera Ethiopian on Urbanspoon

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Poppin’ Molly, I’m Sweatin’! (Portland, Finale)

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Well, I’ve finally managed to come to the end of my sojourn through the wilds of Portland’s culinary scene, and this final post is a fitting finale to the adventure.  Fitting in the sense that I manage to go out in a blaze of glory instead of just fading away a la Kurt Cobain minus the whole dubious suicide and artistic angst.  Instead, I grapple with another spicy food challenge at local eatery Salvador Molly’s.  It’s a bit outside of the city center, and you have to take a bus out to the hill country to get there.  However, it’s a unique dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else in Portland.

Now, I’ve survived my fair share of uber-spicy food that would make any normal human’s taste buds melt immediately.  The medium of fiery madness has ranged from soup, chicken wings, and even a deep fried pork cutlet, but Salvador Molly’s Great Balls of Fire challenge managed to switch it up once more pushing me to my culinary, physical, and mental limit.  The exterior of the restaurant gives off a hippie/Caribbean vibe with its tropical plants and vibrant color schemes, and the interior is even more fascinating.IMG_3881IMG_3880  Buddhist prayer flags were streaming overhead while the walls were adorned with African folk art murals along with Mexican artisanal crafts. IMG_3882 Upon sitting down and scanning the menu, I could see that they had food from all corners of the globe including the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hawaii to name a few.  I was initially drawn to the Jamaican Roti wraps, but I decided to go for Pele’s Volcano sandwich ($9.50) since it had some interesting ingredients.  Along with this, I asked to get the Great Balls of Fire challenge (7 balls, $7.95).  The waitress was hesitant, and asked me if I wanted to just try one to make sure I knew I was getting into.  The only thing I knew was that they were made out of habenero peppers, and I could eat those no problem.  So once I agreed to it, she wrote it down on her paper pad like a death sentence for a doomed prisoner.  While I was waiting, I saw that on the wall next to my table there was a couple of pictures on the wall chronicling the brave souls who pitted their wits against the flame-infused orbs and survived.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

In my mind, I could see my picture going up there as well by the end of my meal.  That’s half the battle with food challenges, envisioning yourself triumphing over the massive obstacle placed in front of you.  Eventually both came out, and the sandwich looked more intimidating than the food challenge.IMG_2693  I knew I was in real trouble when they made me sign the waver saying that I couldn’t sue them if needed a colostomy compliments of their tortuous habanero appetizer.IMG_2692  They also pointed out the warning sign next to my table that was in other parts of the restaurant as well.IMG_2691  Not too scary at all, but I had a plan.  I wouldn’t be rushing headfirst into the gates of hell without a trusty thick coating to my stomach which was what the Pele sandwich was for.  It different than what I was expecting because it was more like a toaster oven pizza than a traditional sandwich.   As for its name, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture, and I was expecting real fireworks to be happening on my palate.  Instead, it was more like a poorly made sparkler in the middle of a rainstorm.  Lots of fizzle and no sizzle.  A majority of the mediocrity derived from the toasted but cold and soggy, compliments of the toppings, bread.  The pork was average, but the only redeeming factor was the tamarindo bbq sauce that was tangy and sweet with a slightly herbal aftertaste compliments of the tamarind infusion in the sauce.  I was more partial to the hurricane garlic fries that took my taste buds by storm with their crispy exteriors and garlicky interiors.

My eyes then turned to my rotund morsels that threatened my existence as onlookers at another table bade me good luck before I dug in.IMG_2694  They even took out their camera phones to take a few snapshots before I possibly spontaneously combusted mid-meal.IMG_2696  They then got their food but always kept one eye on me as I began the challenge.  I gnawed on the first one as I put my figurative toe in the lava pool to make sure it was just right.  Inside the first fritter, it seemed to be filled with pieces of habanero and cheesy batter, and the spice was coming in hot and heavy waves over my tongue.  It was manageable though as I quickly popped balls 2-6 into my mouth with gusto.  The other diners’ jaws fell on their tables as they couldn’t believe that I devoured the fireballs just as quickly as they came to my table.  However, I was starting to feel a rumbling in my tummy as my mouth was more or less numb, sweat covered my face, and my heart was racing.  The final morsel slid down my gullet while leaving deep, spicy, smarting claw marks on my palate. I mopped up the sweet mango salsa as I gallantly destroyed the Great Balls of Fire Challenge.  The waitress was impressed as she took my picture for the “Great Wall of Flame”, and I got to write a memorable quote on it for everyone to see when they walk into the restaurant. IMG_2699 Once the fanfare ended, I sat there digesting the weapon-grade fritters that were smoldering in my stomach.  I asked for a cup of milk to quell the firebomb that was spreading throughout my gastro-intestinal tract.  I left that restaurant to walk through a monsoon, but I was more troubled with the sensation that felt like someone was disemboweling me.  I could see why they made me sign the waiver because they could have been in real legal trouble with people with less fortitude than I.  I struggled with the pain these little hellions brought for the rest of the afternoon/evening, so I warn everyone that the Great Balls of Fire Challenge will burn you if you don’t have the stomach for it.

So if you want a slightly overpriced menu that really highlights the diversity of Portland’s population or try your hand at consuming edible fireballs, check out Salvador Molly’s!
Salvador Molly's on Urbanspoon

A Diamond Not In the Rough

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Hello to everyone out there to another chapter of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry is a bit off of the well chewed culinary path I have blazed throughout my life, but it was one of the hidden jewels that I promised myself I would try one day:  Ethiopian food.  Now many people would be apprehensive about trying food from Africa mainly due to simply not knowing what exactly grows or is raised in the different countries of the continent.  However, Africa has a plethora of cultures that today are blends of many different ethnic groups that have been rearranged due to tribal wars,  European colonialism, and modern day globalization.  The types of food could range anywhere from the more Middle Eastern style cooking of North Africa like the Moroccan tagine to the western coast of the continent which had a significant impact on American southern cooking with such ingredients like peanuts, okra, and black-eyed peas.  However, I explored the northeastern corner of the continent at Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant and Bar located at 6120 N Broadway St Chicago, IL 60660.

The reason why I’ve always been fascinated by trying Ethiopian food is much more than pure curiosity and word of mouth, but rather Ethiopia is an interesting country by itself.  First off, the continent of Africa during the age of exploration was more or less carved up by European nations all vying for global supremacy, but Ethiopia had other ideas.  Like its Asian counterpart Thailand, it was the only country in Africa never to be conquered by an invader in its history including defeating the Italian army on multiple occasions (not a very hard task, if you ask me).  Nevertheless, Ethiopia’s history stretches back to the beginning of mankind including being home to supposedly the Arc of the Covenant, and the famous emperor Haile Selassie who was a symbol of African unity and considered by Rastifarians as “Jah” or the incarnation of God.

History lesson aside, time to talk about the food.  I knew that Ethiopian food was somewhat like Indian cuisine due to their long history of trade with Arab and Indian spice merchants, and their penchant for eating with their hands is another residual effect which is commonplace at Diamond.  However, they will give you silverware if you’re a germaphobe or just don’t feel like getting really messy with your food.  When we walked into the restaurant, I was greeted by a very elegantly decorated place with a pleasant atmosphere.  The service overall was less than ideal since it took them forever to actually give us menus/take our order, but the food more than made up for it even though the vegetarian portions were undersized for the price.  I ended up ordering the traditional Ethiopian dish Doro Watt (chicken in spicy sauce) and Kik Alicha (stewed yellow lentils with garlic and onions) along with an Ethiopian beer called Bedele, and my friend ended up getting the Veggie Combo which ended up with her choosing Yemisir Watt (red lentils in spicy sauce), Dinich Alicha (potatoes and carrots in a mild onion and garlic sauce), and Quosta (simmered spinach with onions and garlic).

A six-ring circus of yummy food

When the food and my beer came out, I was very surprised at the presentation.  It was like everything was served on a large deep dish pizza platter that was layered with the traditional Injera bread which had the texture similar to a kind of  spongy pancake and is to be ripped apart to be used like a utensil to pick up the food.  Then on top of all of the bread were our choices in individual mounds like mini-mountains rising above the sandy colored savannah while circling the verdant tomato, lettuce, and onion salad spoke to this wheel of deliciousness.  My Doro Watt consisted of chicken legs marinated in lemon juice and ginger while playing Marco Polo with pieces of a hard-boiled egg in a spicy sauce.  The legs were very substantial, and the meat was so tender it was falling off the bone.  I could taste a little bit of the lemon through the sauce that was the best part of the dish.  I could only liken it to a spicy Indian curry which helped me stomach the hard boiled eggs which I’m not a big fan of in general.  However, the Injera bread allowed me to make small spicy chicken tacos with the lettuce and tomatoes in the center which was great since it was much more durable than any tortilla I’ve ever eaten.  Unfortunately, my dining companion did not want to partake in the traditional Ethiopian practice of gurrsha or the forming of bonds of friendship by placing food nestled in Injera brad in the other person’s mouth (proceed very carefully with this one, diners).  The Kik Alicha was pretty much split peas, a.k.a. lentils, cooked in a mild sauce of onion, garlic and ginger.  I was indifferent to the actual lentils, but the sauce had a very mellow flavor with each ingredient in perfect harmony.  I also tried some of my friend’s Yemisir Watt which was red lentils cooked with onions in a spicy sauce.  The sauce was quite flavorful and had similar curry undertones like in my Doro Watt, and the Dinich Alicha was quite delicious since the potatoes were buttery soft.  As for the Quosta, it was quite fresh, and thankfully the consistency of it wasn’t too creamy.  Instead, it was like eating a warm salad with a light garlic vinegarette.

Quite the exotic import complete with Ge’ez writing

As for my beer, I read online that one should absolutely get the Bedele beer since it’s a traditional Ethiopian brew, and it did not disappoint.  It had a golden brown hue to it with subtle honey notes and clean finish.  It was quite light and complimented the bolder flavors contained in my food.  It seemed similar to a honey wheat type of brew, so I was genuinely surprised that such a delicious beer could come out of such a non-traditional beer country like Ethiopia.  So if you’re looking for someplace to taste an authentic slice of Ethiopian culture by getting your hands dirty, come on down to Diamond Ethiopian Restaurant.

Ethiopian Diamond on Urbanspoon

Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant and Bar on Foodio54

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