Eating in the Horn of Africa: Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine

Anaheim is continuing its reputation as the most multicultural city in Orange County; it's hard to think of another city that is home to so many ethnic enclaves, from Middle Eastern to Samoan, from Korean to Mexican.

One of the growing communities in West Anaheim is what I'll call Horn of Africa; there's a community of Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis and Djiboutians growing in northwest Anaheim. Where there's a community, there's likely to be a restaurant, and Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine, which opened in October, is the fourth restaurant from that region to open in Anaheim.
What set Abyssinia apart were the patrons; they may have been relatives or friends or just lantsmen (people from the same region), but they were all having a good time. Some were watching Barcelona F.C. tie a soccer game with Real Madrid on the TV, some were chatting over coffee, and a small child ran around playing games.

We ordered a vegetarian combination–as I said in my Ethnic Eating “lesson” on Ethiopian cuisine, Ethiopians are masters of the cooking of pulses (lentils, peas, beans) and vegetables–with additional dishes of yebere tibs (akin to finely spiced lamb fajitas) and kitfo, the cousin of steak tartare tossed with spiced butter.

The injera was quite good, with enough resistance at being torn to stand up to the stews; it was nicely sour without being overwhelmingly lactic in taste.

The vegetables were mostly very good, though they could have used a heavier hand with the mitmita (chile-spice powder); this could have been due to the fact that we don't look remotely Ethiopian. The gomen (collard greens) were my favorite, cooked just until tender without losing the slight bitter cast that tells you what you're eating is healthy. The lentils, because we needed to tone down the spice for some of our party, were a little hard to distinguish; the kik alicha (yellow split peas in mild spice) had a little too much niter kebbeh (spiced butter) and were a little loose and slightly greasy.

The tibs were very good; lamb can get rubbery quickly, but this was tender and not at all chewy, with some beautifully charred tomatoes in the sauce along with the chile peppers and onions.

The standout, however, was the kitfo; we ordered it tossed with homemade fresh cheese, which added a depth that we wouldn't have known was missing. In deference to one of my dining companions, who was skittish about raw meat, we ordered it cooked but very rare. It was still juicy, obviously hand-chopped, and as tender as a cut twice its price. I can't wait to return and have it raw and spicier.

Service was very pleasant, helpful, and welcoming; injera and water were refilled with no problems at all. Like most SoCal East African restaurants, dishes are made when you order them, so this is not a place for a quick half-hour lunch; go when you have time to spend chatting with the others and eat at a slower pace.

It's wonderful to live in Anaheim; I have access to cuisine like this without having to drive up to L.A.'s Little Ethiopia on Fairfax Avenue. Let's hope the community succeeds and grows.

Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine, 2751 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 826-5656.

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