Editor’s note: This week, we have a guest submission in place of our usual CT Eats columnist, Olivia Banc. Believe it or not, more than one of us here at the Campus Times likes to eat!
Abyssinia is a small, family-owned Ethiopian restaurant on Mt. Hope Ave, about a 20 minute walk from River Campus. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, seating options are limited, and much of their business is now takeout. Thus, while the interior seemed charming, it will not be a part of this review. Instead, I will be focusing on the lovely, savory spice-medley that is dining at Abyssinia.
Over two separate days I ordered five entrées and consumed them with the help of two friends.
Abyssinia may be one of the most enjoyable, savory meals I have ever eaten. I usually have a sweet tooth a mile wide — all my knowledge labeled “amount of sugar in American food” was banished to the same realm of denial that “the health benefits of butter” sits in.
The food served at Abyssinia does not rely on high fructose corn syrup for its flavor. Instead, a beautiful blend of hot and rich spices pairs with the fats and oils of the meat, complimented with light, tart injera (a traditional Ethopian flatbread, similar to sourdough). While presentation may have been lacking, with multiple dishes being served together in unlabeled styrofoam, the taste more than makes up for it.
The Doro We’t, which is a curry-style chicken dish, reminded me of a duck confit I ate in Paris once, matching it both in terms of delicate and complex flavor, and the melt-off-the-bone texture. The Kitfo (spiced and buttered ground beef — served raw) is truly best described as “meat candy.” It’s spicy enough to stop you from wolfing the whole thing down, but delicious enough that you just might try anyway. I wish I’d done a better job of keeping the food straight before plating and eating it, because I lost track of what was beef and what was lamb part way through each meal. Even so, both were so good I didn’t care.
If meat isn’t your thing, Abyssinia has a fairly extensive list of vegetarian and vegan options. Only a few of these were included in the specials I ordered, but each vegetable was prepared to its fullest potential. The cabbage in the Tikil Gomen was crisp but soft, the leaves al dente, a far cry from the soggy steamed veggies of my British youth. The Timatim Salata was fresh and bright, and provided a nice contrast to an almost overwhelmingly flavorful meal. Even the slices of green pepper served in the Yebeg We’t were somehow perfectly prepared, and I was able to taste the fresh flavor of them very clearly through meat and spices.
As I mentioned above, the dishes served at Abyssinia benefit strongly from something to cut through the wave of flavor. Fortunately, this is provided in two ways: Injera is served with every meal, and the menu and restaurant owners strongly recommend a bottle of Tej with every meal. Injera is baked into thin, pancake-like rounds, which, at Abyssinia, are then rolled up and stacked into a steaming, aromatic pyramid. I found the Injera to be one of my favorite parts of each meal, often taking a break between bites or dishes to chat and pull apart one of the rolls. It is by far the best utensil to eat these meals with; I used it to grab choice bites right off the plate, and also would spoon together individual concoctions of ingredients onto a section of Injera to form individual bites to roll up and savor. The Tej was slightly disappointing at first — it’s made from honey, and I was hoping to taste that — but, as I sipped it alongside my meal I came to appreciate its light sweetness in comparison to the food.
As recommended by Abyssinia, I concluded each meal with a tall cup of Bunna (a style of Ethiopian coffee). The Bunna was rich and nutty, with notes of chocolate and cinnamon, which served as a nice palette cleanser. I think without it I might have been tasting the berbere spice blend in my mouth for an hour afterwards (although, would that be a bad thing?)
If you’re looking to explore Ethiopian cuisine, are a fan of trying new things, or simply have taste buds, I recommend ordering from Abyssinia.