Almaz Cafe – Philadelphia

I consider myself an adventurous and somewhat worldly eater, but there are a few cuisines I’ve yet to try. Moroccan, for one. I’ve only had Spanish once or twice. And until today, I’d never had Ethiopian.

I recently finished Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone for my book club, a novel that primarily takes place in Addis Ababa. The book is well worth the read, and I was particularly intrigued by the descriptions of Ethiopian cuisine. I knew I had to try this “injera” that kept coming up in the book. A quick Yelp search later, and I found myself headed to Almaz Café in the Rittenhouse section of Philadelphia.

Almaz is a humble, no frills restaurant that smells amazing before you even open the door. A small menu offers authentic Ethiopian dishes like firfir, doro tibs, and kitfo (meat and vegetarian options). They also have American choices like turkey wrap or ham and cheese sandwich, though I don’t know how anyone could order something so plain in a place like this. I went with doro wat, a thick chicken stew that is a popular Ethiopian dish.

From the book, and a Wikipedia search I did while reading the book, I knew that most dishes are served with/on injera – a flat, spongy sour bread made from teff flour that Ethiopians use to scoop up and eat the wot. When I opened my takeout box, there was ample injera on top. I tore off a piece and chomped down. Well, the words “sour” and “spongy” are certainly accurate. I can’t say it’s bread that I’d eat on its own (like naan for example), but it tasted much better mixed together with the doro wat and sopping up all the sauce. Speaking of the doro wot, it was incredible. The chicken (on the bone) was moist and clearly marinated in something delicious. The sauce was a not-too-spicy mix of onions, red pepper paste, ginger, and cardamom. It had the consistency of a really thick curry, with big chunks of onions.

As I pulled away layers of injera, I revealed more surprises. First I uncovered a scoop of sour cream, which gave a nice balance to the sauce. Then I found a small serving of a savory cabbage dish with carrots, onions, and potatoes, which I almost loved more than the doro wat! Then I found a hardboiled egg. All in all, a huge serving that justified the $14 lunch.

I can’t wait to try more dishes from Almaz, and their coffee. If you’re in the mood for something different, but looking for a change from Indian or Middle Eastern food, give Ethiopian and Eritrean a try. You will not be disappointed.

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