Walter Mencken 2:02 p.m., June 25
Teff Love at Asmara Eritrean Restaurant
What’s the difference between Eritrean food and Ethiopian food? According to the owner of Asmara Eritrean and Ethiopian Restaurant, “Just our governments. Our food, our spices, our drinks -- all the same.”
Good, I’m not a big fan of food wars, such as NY vs. Chicago pizza or the endless barbeque debates. I’m an eater, not a fighter.
It’s my first visit to Asmara Eritrean and Ethiopian Restaurant, so I order a Meta beer (Ethiopian, $4), a veggie sampler ($12.95) and the Asmara salad ($4.95). The beer is sweet, malty goodness, perfect for this late-autumn day.
My salad-and-veggie sampler arrive a few minutes later. The salad was cool and crisp, a mix of shredded Romaine lettuce, red onion, cucumber, sliced tomato, and carrot dressed with vinegar, olive oil, a good-sized punch of black pepper, and spice similar to berbere, but without the heat.
The veggie sampler is a large plate with neat piles of collards and spinach cooked in garlic, onion, and chili, timtimo (lentils with onion, tomato, hot pepper), timtimo alicha (lentils in curry, and the aforementioned seasonings), and alicha (meltingly soft cabbage, carrots and potatoes, turmeric and onion) atop injera, the teff-based, slightly sour flat bread that serves as an eating utensil. Another plate holds more injera.
It’s customary to eat with the right hand only, not touching the lips or licking one’s fingers. This is homey food, warm and comforting. Every one of the stews is distinctly flavored -- you can taste each ingredient but it all comes together nicely. Only the timtimo is noticeably spicy.
When the owner comes back to check on me, he offers a small bowl of awaze, a condiment made with berbere and mustard. It’s so addictive that I end up eating it plain on the injera. The awaze is hot enough to make me break a sweat but not start hiccupping. I can handle a bit of heat, but I’ve learned the hard way not to overestimate my tolerance when it comes to ethnic cuisines. I’m from the Midwest, after all.
I end the meal with a warming cup of shahi, black tea with sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and clove ($1.75). Perfectly tu’um (delicious).
Asmara Eritrean and Ethopian Restaurant
4155 University Avenue (between 42nd & Marlborough)
San Diego, CA 92105
Hours: 11am-10pm daily
Credit cards accepted.
Parking lot in back (enter from Marlborough St.)
Small outdoor seating area off the parking lot.
Ethiopian and Eritrean beer and wine available.