That Tana Ethiopian Restaurant is on a fairly short list of places I visit frequently is due to a serendipitous trip to Portillo's in Buena Park a few years ago. I saw a sign and pulled a quick U-turn in the road, earning me the ire of a bus driver and the first of many happy dining experiences.
You have to hunt to find this little Ethiopian cafe, but it is worth the squinting and the honking as you head slowly down La Palma west of Magnolia. The owner, Shewaye Zeleke, has a genuine smile and the patience of Job, as she explains her complex, exotic and varied foodways to people whose last mental image of Ethiopian food was the famine of the 1980s. Most come away smiling, full and happy; I know I always do.
Here are her answers to our deep, hard-hitting interview:
1. Dish you cook that most represents you.
Vegetarian food; shiro [a sauce base made from onions, spice powder and ground chickpeas]. Everything comes from Ethiopia, like me.
2. What was the last meal you had at home?
I had family coming for the New Year, so I made lamb.
3. Your favorite restaurant (other than yours):
The Olive Garden, really; I like to get the salad and soup.
4. Fast food guilty pleasure:
5. Complete this sentence: I would like to [verb] [Food Network star] with [noun]. (for example: "I would like to BEAT BOBBY FLAY with A STALE BAGUETTE." or "I would like to SHOWER GIADA DE LAURENTIIS with FLOWERS"):
I want to teach every single one of them how to cook with spices.
6. Last meal of your life, what would it be?
Doro wat [chicken in spicy sauce with hard-boiled egg].
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7. Items you always have in your refrigerator:
Niter kebbeh, our spiced butter.
8. Your most indispensable kitchen tool or appliance:
A good knife and a cutting board.