As Top Chef has highlighted, D.C. has a rich and vibrant Ethiopian community. The District boasts the largest population of people of Ethiopian descent outside of Africa, and at least a couple dozen Ethiopian eateries. Neither Mark nor I have been the greatest fans of Ethiopian cuisine in the past, but we decided to give Dukem on U Street (which now has a Baltimore branch) a shot to change our minds late on a rare not-too-muggy night the other week. And, as is often the case when we expand our boundaries (and our bellies), our adventurousness paid off. Dukem offers tasty, gut-bustingly satisfying food for those willing to go on a little faith.
Taking advantage of the break in the sauna-like weather conditions, we decided to sit outside on Dukem's relatively large patio, and settled in for a slow-paced, leisurely meal. We started with sambusas (a stuffed savory pastry very similar to samosas in Indian cuisine), both veggie, with lentil, onions and jalapeño, and meat, with ground beef onion and jalapeño (below). Both versions were nice, filled to the brim and very subtlely spiced.
Not being familiar enough with the cuisine to stick to one option, Mark got a combo with doro wat, a chicken stew simmered in berbere/red pepper sauce, and minchet abesh, finely chopped lean ground beef braised in milled ginger and garlic sauce, as well as five additional vegetable dishes (below). The doro wat had some shockingly good heat to it - not burn-your-mouth-off-hot, but hot enough to make you sit up and take notice - along with very rich spices and flavors, and was probably the favorite item of the night. The minchet abesh sported more mild flavors (I loved the garlic notes) and an initially off-putting crumbly texture, but was also very tasty. The vegetable dishes, which were mostly very lightly cooked (if at all), added a nice fresh element to the heavy and intense meat options. The combination was served on a large, spongy crepe-like flatbread called injera, which was addictive and perfect for soaking up all the flavors from the meats and veggies.
Because I was feeling slightly more adventurous, I made my own combo made up of the regular kitfo, a beef tartare seasoned with herbal butter and mitmita (a spicy Ethiopian powered seasoning), and cardamom, as well as the melasena sember, beef tripe and tongue cooked in a mild ginger sauce with carrot and jalepeno, and seasoned with ginger and garlic (below). As much as I love the French version of the raw beef dish, I have to say I prefer kitfo - creamy, flavorful and so deliciously spicy (for those antsy about raw meat, you can order it medium or well done). The melasena sember was good, too, but I was a little disappointed that the tripe and tongue were ground up, as the textures of those cuts are my favorite thing about them. My dishes were also served on injera, which I shoveled in my mouth with gusto.
Even with our prodigious appetites, our devouring of massive amounts of injera got the better of us, and we were stuffed about 3/4 of the way through each of our dishes. But if we had had any room in our stomachs, we would have kept eating. While not for all palates, Dukem serves up enticing Ethiopian cuisine, food that really packs a power-punch in terms of flavors. Consider us converts, and don't be surprised if we post about another (two or three or four) Ethiopian adventure in the future!