Habesh (also spelled Habash)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Sunday – Thursday (10:00 – 10:00)
Friday (10:00 – Shabbat begins)
Saturday (Shabbat ends – 11:00)
Back in January, we went to Habesh with some friends from our long-term Israel program just a few days before the program ended and we all went our separate ways. Two were going to Europe to travel for a month, one was returning to the US to look for jobs, one was going to grad school, and another was just starting a Masa program in Israel, while Doug and I were continuing our stay in Israel while working full-time. Knowing that we would soon scatter, we relished the opportunity to spend time together. And what better way to spend one of our last chances to all be together than to dine on communal, hand-eaten Ethiopian food.
While the menu listed tons of things that appealed to us, we were limited by what was available on mozei Shabbat (Saturday night after Shabbat ends). What with the kitchen not working all day and the staff comprising of one individual, they were unable to provide any of the lamb dishes, chick pea stew, angocha, or desserts. Despite this, we managed to pick a fair assortment of dishes to try.
Instead of lamb, we settled on a chicken dish. The meat was still on the bone, which was interesting to get at in a communal setting, but was worth it as it was wonderfully tender and had a sweet and spicy thing going for it.
While I definitely enjoyed the chicken, I liked the beef far more. While it wasn’t what I would call tender, it was incredibly juicy and flavorful and I couldn’t help but try to sneak more than my fair share of them onto my plate.
In addition to the meats, we had yakaklit wat, a mix of fresh green beans, carrots, green peppers, potatoes, and onions. Despite my aversion to onions, the split peas were rather tasty and the potatoes looked and tasted lovely, thanks to the turmeric.
Then there was miser wat, a dish of split red lentils cooked in Ethiopian red pepper sauce. It was beany, warm, and delicious. Later research led me to find that miser wat contains berbere, a reddish mixture of spices that includes chili, garlic, cayenne, ginger, basil, and black pepper, amongst others, that is a staple of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.
But the kik alicha stole the day as everyone’s favorite dish. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cardamom contributed to the sweet pureed root vegetables that were prepared in such a way that they fell apart in your mouth.
At this point I’d like to point out that we had no silverware. None. So how, do you ask, does a group of six people share a single drumstick, pieces of beef, and various piles of vegetables? Using teff, the Ethiopian equivalent to bread. With the appearance of a sponge or a pancake cooked on one side right before flipping and about the size of a standard crepe, the various dishes were served on a platter of teff. In addition to the platter teff came several rolls of the spongy bread. At first bite, it seemed quite sour and lemony, but as we continued to eat I came to appreciate the cooling feeling and palate-cleansing purpose it served. Beyond that, it was the perfect thing to pick things up with as it was rather flexible and tactile. The best part? The spongy holes absorbed and retained sauces and spices, giving the pieces under each dish an amazing flavor.
By the end of the meal, I knew I’d be coming back for more… but next time on a day when they have every dish on the menu available for my devouring.