Hungry City: Abyssinia in Harlem
The New York Times
By LIGAYA MISHANSEPT
September 18, 2014
The description “ground mildly spiced chickpeas” does not prepare you for what arrives, which looks less like a self-sufficient dish than a sauce or a displaced soup, as red as the desert. It’s not that mild, either, thanks to a nice shock of berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend dominated by red chile, with gentler warming notes from cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
This is shiro, a staple of the Ethiopian table, unglamorous and essential. Of all the entrees at Abyssinia, in Harlem, it is the most unstructured and minimalist in appearance, but I dare any (non-Ethiopian) chef in town to recreate it by taste alone. Even the restaurant’s owner and chef, Frehiwot Reta, doesn’t make it from scratch: The shiro powder is prepared in Ethiopia by one of her aunts.
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Ms. Reta grew up in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, in the holy city of Lalibela. She came to the United States 16 years ago and soon became known among New York’s Ethiopian immigrants as a master of injera, the round, sour flatbread — more than a foot in diameter and thin and limp, like an attenuated pancake — without which there is no Ethiopian meal. For a decade, she sold injera out of her Harlem apartment. Now her customers come to Abyssinia, the restaurant she opened in 2011 a few blocks from her home.