Thursday, March 20, 2008
My adventurous friend Sachiko and I went to a Eritrean Restaurant on Geary in San Francisco called Assab. We were immediately greeted by a friendly man who I believe was the owner. He looked for every way to make us comfortable and to understand Eritrean cuisine. For example, when we noticed on the map that Eritrea borders Ethiopia's north and has a coastline on the Red Sea, we wondered why there were no seafood dishes. Apparently until just recently the colonials have kept the native people from fully enjoying the bounty of the sea, so they do not have seafood dishes. And interestingly, they do not have desserts either (although there is cheesecake on the menu here). He said that some elders live healthily surpassing 100 years of age, and have never tasted anything sweet (and maybe that's why they were so healthy). He told us that Eritreans enjoy spicy and sour tastes.
Since it borders Ethiopia, there are a number of shared traits in their cuisine. And there were some things of Ethiopian origin on the menu, such as this tea, which Sachiko mentioned had a bold flavor. It reminded me of tea I had in Kenya.
And I went Ambo, an Ethiopian mineral water. It was fresh and sparkly and tasted a little softer than a Perrier.
We ordered two dishes which came on a BIG platter on top of injera, a fluffy slightly soft and sour traditional bread. It is made of teff, cornmeal and a self-rising wheat flour. Besides the overlapping pieces on the platter, we were each served an additional piece on the side. We each also received a fork, although it is traditionally eaten by tearing off strips of injera and picking up the food with it to transport to your mouth. We ordered the vegetable combination plate and the Kelwa-Derho. The Kelwa-Derho is made of chunks of chicken breast sauteed with clarified butter, specially seasoned hot pepper, jalapenos, onions and tomatoes with a little yogurt (housemade). It was tender and delicious. The vegetables were vegetable alicha (mildly seasoned carrots, potatoes & peppers), seasoned okra and zucchini. The traditional red and brown lentils, salad and some cooked spinach were garnishing the edges as well. We enjoyed our out of the ordinary dining experience and would recommend it to other curious eaters.