Korean Ssam Bar

Korea is now often in the media, and many Americans have consequently become interested in its food and culture. While a wide array of ethnic cuisines are available in Sarasota, Florida (a mecca for the arts, outdoor activities, and nature situated on the Gulf Coast) Korean Ssam Bar has attracted a loyal following since opening on March 22, 2017.

Yun and Yup Namgoong are the owners of this popular restaurant. Yun immigrated to Sarasota at age 17, moving from Incheon, South Korea, with her family. Her father, a master of Tae Kwon Do, had opened a martial arts academy in Sarasota a year before she arrived.

Yun attended Bayshore High School in Bradenton and worked part-time for the well-known beach-side restaurant, Sandbar, owned by Ed Chiles, son of former governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles. The Sandbar’s gorgeous location on Anna Maria Island and its iconic status in the area made this a terrific place for Yun to learn the restaurant business. She worked several years as a hostess at the Sandbar, chosen, no doubt, for this “front of the house” responsibility due to her outgoing personality and ability to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.

Yun graduated from the University of South Florida. She was working for the State of Florida as a social worker when the opportunity to get into the restaurant business came her way. By then she had married Yup, who is a graduate of the prestigious Ringling College of Art and Design. They took over a Korean restaurant in Bradenton, just north of Sarasota, and successfully ran it for 11 years.

Yun and Yup learned through restaurant contacts that an Indian restaurant in Sarasota was up for sale. They seized this opportunity and Korean Ssam Bar was born. Yun left her job in social services and moved to the “back of the house” to take over cooking while Yup took over the “front of the house.” With his calm nature, he manages the busy restaurant with warmth and a quiet reserve that makes guests feel comfortable and welcomed.

The new restaurant’s name is a play on words based on Yun’s fond memories of the Sandbar. Ssam means “lettuce wrap,” a Korean specialty, and so Ssam Bar was named!

For the cooking, Yun drew on her childhood memories of food preparation in Korea. She is influenced by the home cooking of her grandparents, parents, and extended family. The recipes Yun has developed are traditionally Korean. She procures traditional Korean ingredients and makes all of her own sauces and condiments. Marinated meats are based on techniques that she learned from her family.

One recipe Yun remembers from her childhood is kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine—a traditional side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, known for its digestive and nutritional qualities. It is classified as a probiotic. With growing public interest in healthy eating, SSam Bar is recognized as a destination for local “foodies.”

At Ssam Bar, Yun prepares 15 heads of napa cabbage a week. Compare this to the 100 heads of cabbage that her family prepared each November in Korea. There, the tradition of burying the cabbage in the ground in earthenware containers was carefully followed. Kimchi-making was a family event and fostered social occasions at the start and the end of production. Often, a feast of pork and fresh kimchi was made to celebrate the beginning of the process. Since this was a winter staple, the kimchi had ice on it when taken from the ground in small quantities until it ran out in February or March.

While Yun recalls the first year of Ssam Bar as hectic and somewhat stressful, her golden rule of saying “Please” and “Thank you” to everyone working in the kitchen and her good helpers who “calm her down” are the secrets to her success. Now Yun enjoys the harmony of a well-run kitchen and is delighted to prepare home cooking for her many customers with the support of a great staff: Yup and their two children, daughter Bari and son Yho, who also help out.

Our group of four diners sampled many dishes and enjoyed them all immensely. The small, intimate dining room was filled with locals: students from nearby colleges, professionals, retirees, families with young children, and food aficionados.

Recently, a mother/daughter pair returned from a trip to South Korea. The daughter is a big fan of K-Pop music and they were happy to compliment Yun, saying that they missed her style of cooking while in Korea. They returned to Ssam Bar the day after they arrived home from their trip to share their travel and culinary adventure stories.

We enjoyed:

Red Wine by the glass/Cabernet Sauvignon
Barley Tea/Yun says its mild flavor is a favorite of the Queen of England!

Korean Dishes:
Kimchee Pancake Appetizer
Pork Dumplings Appetizer
Spring Rolls Appetizer
Stone Hot Pot/Bibimbap: Rice topped with choice of protein, or spicy squid, and a fried egg, in a sizzling stone bowl, usually mixed with Gochujang, the traditional Korean pepper paste
Black Bean Sauce with Udon Noodles/Jajangmyeon
Thin sliced Marinated Beef/Beef Bulgogi: The favorite dish sampled that night
Lettuce Wrap/Ssam with condiments: kimchi (fresh and aged), chayote and cucumber, potato. This item, while not officially on the menu, is available by special request

Two weeks later, we returned to Ssam Bar to taste a dish that is available, by order, at least a week in advance: Samgyetang/Ginseng Chicken Soup. It is a favorite dish in Korea, served during the very hot summer months…. perfect for a hot summer day in Sarasota! The recipe revolves around cooking a small chicken stuffed with ginseng, other herbs, sticky rice, and red dates. The recipe is said to have medicinal qualities. We were eager to sample it, as one person in our party had recently been hospitalized with digestive issues and might benefit from tasting this new dish. It is served piping hot. As the Korean saying goes, “Eating the hot soup is fighting heat with heat.”

We enjoyed the presentation when the condiments were lined up in front of us and the pot of Samgyetang presented at the table. We helped ourselves to the broth and pieces of the chicken, which fell off the bones. It is a simple, pleasing dish, with no salt or heavy spices. Adding the condiments and rice, served as sides, added spice, saltiness and extra flavor. We highly recommend this dish.

On our second visit, there were two long tables with 8 to 10 people in a party. Some of the other guests were local Koreans, a few regular customers, several business people out for an early dinner, and a curious vacationer.

Everything we sampled was made with care, presented well, and delicious.

When asked what the family does for vacations or breaks, Yun explained that her children’s best memories are visits to Korea. They enjoy going camping in the Korean mountains with Yup’s family. Part of the experience is to bring a stove to cook outside, and they sleep in tents.

Give Korean Ssam Bar a try. You will want to go back often once you taste Yun’s home-style Korean cooking.

Visit:
Korean Ssam Bar
1303 N Washington Blvd, Unit E
Sarasota, FL 34236
Tel: 941.312.6264

About the Author:
Sara Sinaiko is a writer living in Sarasota, Florida. Beginning in September, 2019, she is honored to serve as the Fair Food Program Development Director (ciw-online.org; fairfoodstandards.org).

Sabores del Sur

“I hope my parents are proud of me,” pauses Chef Guisell Osorio of Sabores del Sur as a tear swells in her eye. “I know they are”, she then reassures herself. Guisell left Chile at 21 to pursue her dream in the “Land of Opportunity”: the United States. Ever since she was a child, Guisell loved to cook and prepare food. Building off of her grandma’s homemade recipes, Guisell created what is now a well-known South American bistro in Walnut Creek, a suburb of San Francisco. Her family was nothing less but proud. Last year, before her father passed away in Chile, he asked Guisell’s mom to get a special cookbook stuffed deep in the closet which was filled with his own recipes. He asked that the book be sent to Guisell. With this gesture he wanted to show his love and support for Guisell's passion. “If only his writing was a bit more clear”, laughs Guisell as she reminisces about her parents.

Sabores del Sur, which means "Flavors from the South”, is located in the business area near the Pleasant Hill BART station. A flow of business customers come here for lunch from nearby office buildings. Once inside, the place envelops you like a cozy blanket. Traditional and modern Latin music plays subtly in the background. The restaurant is  well lit, with comfortable chairs accompanying each table. At the far corner of the restaurant, an exotic collection of Chilean objects are put on display, two of those delicate antiques being Guisell’s grandma’s old sewing machine and telephone.

As I looked around the unique restaurant, I noticed that only women worked behind the counter. I quickly found out that almost every one of those women had children and Chef Guisell ensures that each employee is able to balance family and work. “I make sure they are paid fairly and are treated well.”

Guisell is often the person who takes your order. If you are there for the first time, she will give you several recommendations. You are treated as a special guest.

The menu has about 4-5 choices in every category, which makes it simple and easy to choose. In addition, there are a lot of familiar international names on the menu. Chile’s multi-cultural heritage had a significant influence on its cuisine. German influence can be seen in the sausages like Prietas, Chilean-style blood sausage served with potatoes. The traditional Shepherd's Pie (Pastel de Choclo) has a Chilean twist by using a summer corn crust rather than potatoes.

Scanning the menu intently, I decided that I was craving a meaty sandwich. Guisell was at the register and recommended Churrasco (Grilled steak with tomato, avocado & aioli), but I had my heart set on Pan con Chicharrón (Peruvian-style fried pork with sweet potato & onion salad).

Interestingly, Pan Con Chicharron is traditionally eaten for breakfast, but I couldn’t even finish half for lunch - it was so filling! The flavorful sandwich creates sweet, salty, and tangy flavors by combining pork, sweet potato and red onion relish. Chicharron is a term used for cooking meat, typically pork, by braising and frying to create a tender, but also crispy piece of meat. The sandwich is made on a traditional bread called Marraqueta, Chile’s version of a French baguette.

To go with my sandwich, I wanted to order a soup as well. There were 3 soups on the menu, but Aguadito de Pollo (Peruvian-style organic chicken & rice soup) sounded best at that moment. What made the particular soup very unusual was the sudden, bursting sweet corn flavor. In Peru, they call this soup “levanta-muertos” which means “wakes up the dead” because of its restoring and soothing qualities.

My mom ordered Traditional Chilean empanada since this was the only traditional food we knew before coming to the restaurant. Chileans eat empanadas at any time of the year, but they are most popular during Fiestas Patrias holidays to celebrate Chile’s independence. Every culture seems to have it’s version of these turnover pies (Calzones, Pierogies), yet the Chilean version was definitely a new kick of unique. Empanadas came to South America with the Spanish 500 years ago, and every South American culture has transformed the traditional empanada to their own liking. We decided on the Steak Empanada which was very flavorful due to the exotic Chilean spices and “caldúa”. In Chile, they say the juicier the better. The dough kept the whole ensemble together, making it smooth and able to be cut easily, but at the same time, the empanada didn’t crumble or fall part.

For dessert, we had to try Chef Guiselle’s famous Alfajores - crumbly butter cookies, filled with a thick layer of creamy dulce de leche caramel and dusted in white powdered sugar. Originally, the Spaniards acquired Alfajores from the Middle East. The word “alfajor” actually comes from an old Arabic word that stands for “excellent” or “luxurious”. After Alfajores were brought to South America, every country in the continent made its own version of these cookies, becoming local specialties filled with dulce de le leche, jam, or chocolate, and sometimes coated in a sugar glaze. Chef Guisell’s Alfajores were irresistible and I munched on both cookies even though the second one was meant for someone else.

A lot of different people come to this place: families with South American background, business people from nearby offices, and cultural foodies. As I waited for my order, I noticed one family ordering a red drink poured form a large glass jar. I was curious to try it. It turned out to be chicha morada, a beverage prepared by boiling purple corn with various fruits added in and a pinch of cinnamon along with a few cloves. To me it was delicious and refreshing. This drink is considered to have many health benefits being packed with antioxidants.

About Chef Guisell

Chef Guisell was born in Santiago de Chile in a very large family. She grew up during the 80s under the difficult military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Rules were very strict, an example being that 8 p.m. was the curfew for all people, adults and children. “That’s why people had parties at night”, Guisell exclaimed, “If you didn’t leave on time, you were stuck at someone’s house for the rest of the night, so what’s a better way to spend the evening then a party” It was also a time of “Macho community”, meaning that the girls couldn’t go anywhere without a male chaperone.

When Guisell was 17, she moved to the US with her parents for 2 years and attended a high school in the East Bay. She immediately fell in love with the feeling of freedom of the “Land of Opportunity”. As the family went back to Chile, Guisell promised herself that she would come back.

Guisell returned to the Bay Area 2 years later. The only problem was that she had a mere $27 in her pocket, yet she also held a dream to build her own business. After several rounds of jobs, she slowly began to create her informal business, Sabores del Sur, selling her favorite South American foods to friends and family.

As she developed her business on her own, she found it hard keeping in touch with her family. Her family didn’t have a phone in Chile until the late 90s. In order to speak with her parents, Guisell had to call the community center at a specific time each week. The person from the community center in Chile would run out and call Guisell’s mom. Every minute of the conversation was precious.

To get the authentic recipes from Chile, Guisell would often call her grandmother, who happened to be the only family member in Chile with a phone. At the sky high cost of $2 per minute, she would write down the tips from her grandma and later incorporate the recipes in the building of her restaurant. Many dishes today are based on the same magic recipes from Guisell's abuelita.

But it was not just the mysterious deliciousness of grandma’s recipes. Guisell told us, “One day, I realized that I had it in me, I had a gift of being able to make delicious foods and a way of making people happy with it! I am very blessed because I do what I love. My restaurant is like my living room and I have guests every day. I love it!” Guiselle prepared and built her restaurant for a full year before officially opening it in 2004. Prior to the opening, she did a lot of research, testing, and took what seemed like an infinite amount of culinary and business classes.

“Was it hard building your own restaurant as a woman?”, I asked. “I never thought or assumed that things would be different because I am a woman”, replied Guisell, “ I never thought I would achieve less or could do less. I thought of myself as a person with a dream and I knew that I would work hard, do the right thing, and I would get there.”

Guisell thinks of herself as being very fortunate. When she first started, programs such as La Cocina and Women’s Initiative took her under their wings as a talented entrepreneur and provided commercial kitchen space, industry expertise and other resources for her success.

La Cocina is an incubator for aspiring working class, food entrepreneurs with a mission to improve equity in business ownership for women, immigrants, and people of color. According to La Cocina, “Women account for only 33% of business owners nationwide and still make 46-75 cents for every dollar their white, male counterparts make”.

The other secret for her success? “I always treat those around me with respect, and in return they respect me”, said Guisell, “and I always ask questions. That’s how I learn. When I was little, my aunts would say, ‘do you always have to ask questions, Guisell?’ And I still do.”

In addition, Guisell always keeps researching and learning ways to improve her restaurant. She keeps a journal of ideas that lessons from other accomplished business people and chefs. “There is always something to learn,'' she stated.

Chef Guisell has always been a positive contributor to the community. Sabores del Sur supports Fair Trade, Locally Grown and Buy Local Programs. “I believe in giving back, and I have always lived by this principle”, shared Guisell. When Guisell was just starting out, she would give back by volunteering at the AIDs Foundation and Breast Cancer Foundation events by Cheering, helping set up and clean up after.

Guisell is especially passionate about Chilean Teletón, a charity event held yearly since 1978, which raises funds to help children with developmental disabilities. “This event cut across political divides and got our country together. It helped us create opportunities for children and their families that are often struggling”. Considering herself very blessed, Guisell says she started asking people to donate to Chilean Teleton instead of giving gifts on her birthday. Sometimes during Christmas, she organizes dinners for friends and family and asks guests to contribute to Teleton as a donation in order to attend her event.

It's easy to tell that Chef Guisell has the strength of an iron fist and a soft kind hard for everyone in need. After visiting “Sabores del Sur” , I felt like I had visited a friend in South America, someone who truly cared about me and wanted to make sure my mom and l felt comfortable and ate well. I hope to come back to her place soon with my friends so that they become a part of this experience too.

Visit:
Sabores del Sur
3003 Oak Rd #105,
Walnut Creek, CA 94597

Agra Cafe

Agra Cafe

Agra Cafe is tucked into the corner of a happening strip mall at the junction of Sunset and Fountain in Silverlake, Agra Cafe offers a delicious and authentic taste of the Punjab region of India. As soon as you walk in, the enticing aroma of spices lets you know you’re in for something special. The cozy red-tinted mildly incensed interior, decorated with Indian artwork, provides the perfect, inviting space for a traditional Indian meal for a romantic night out, a large family gathering or dinner-for-one any night of the week. Lucky Singh, a friendly and dapper member of the family who own Agra, describes their cuisine as much like the the food in his native Northern India. The combination of basic spices and other special ingredients makes for the unique, yet typical, cuisine. Of course, Lucky explains, each chef also adds their personal touch, and the high quality of the ingredients and spices that Agra sources from their local and global purveyors also makes the food exceptional. In the late 1990s, Lucky’s Uncle Amrik Singh arrived in the U.S, and initially found work driving an ice cream truck. He was financially judicious and in 2008, was able to buy a Bangladeshi restaurant with his savings. After learning a lot from the former owner, Singh transformed the place and Agra Cafe was born. Immediately following the opening, family from India, including Lucky, came to America to help with the restaurant. Lucky, used to a life of farming in Northern India and unable to speak English fluently, struggled to make himself at home in the U.S. However, through Lucky’s relationships with customers, painstakingly-acquired language skills and a lot of hard work, he has hit his stride. Today, almost all the staff at Agra Cafe are family; in total two generations of around twenty cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles work there. While Agra’s business continues to thrive, there are always some challenges like finding certain specific ingredients, and the proper utensils. Just sourcing the unique furnace-looking stove or 'tandoor' took a lot of doing.

Additionally, finding chefs who are capable of cooking this type of food isn’t that easy in America. However, the Singh family believes their employees can rise from dishwashing personnel to chef by watching and learning from the original chefs, and this has proven true at Agra Cafe. According to Lucky, over the past few years, Agra has expanded into more delivery-based service which is great for me because I order from Agra every Sunday night!

Photo: Agra Variety of Curry - Agra Lamb - Agra Curry Shrimp


With a menu ranging from currys, kormas, vindaloos, to soups of all kinds, to vegetable dishes, to balti or tandoori plates, it is safe to say that Agra’s chefs are versatile, and that there is something for everyone to love. Each member of my family has a different favorite. My sister loves the Chicken Tikka Masala with its bright orange fenugreek laden sauce and mild flavor, while my parents always choose from the deep hot vinegar-and-tomato-based Vindaloos. My weekly favorite is the Lamb Korma accompanied by a Cheese Naan, polished off with a rice pudding. The creamy texture of the Korma sauce served over rice makes for an incredibly delicious dish rich with flavors of ginger, garlic, and cumin. The thin-pizza-like Naan is ideal to mop up every last bite. Finally, the rice pudding is made with the same Basmati rice used for regular dishes which gives it a thinner texture, and is unique, refreshing and light.

At Agra Cafe, each dish can be ordered at a range of different spice levels going from mild to very spicy. The condiments that come with most dishes - a deep burgundy tamarind chutney and a bright green chili coriander chutney - are homemade and worth trying. Plus, Agra Cafe also offers a variety of enticing Indian drinks like Chai, Lassis, and some of India’s best beers like Kingfisher and Taj Mahal. Overall, Agra Cafe is a truly unique and authentic dive into North Indian cuisine, and probably the best Indian food you can get without going to India!

Visit:
Visit-Agra-Cafe 
4325 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
323- 665-7890
Hours 11:30-1am

Agra

Han Lao

In quintessential St. Louis fashion, no matter what street you take you will likely find yourself surrounded by restaurants serving various types of cuisine. If that street you took happens to be Hanley Road just off the highway that takes you to downtown St. Louis, then you may find yourself looking at a sign advertising Laotian food and wondering, “What exactly is Laotian food?” And so you walk in to Han Lao, the Lao-Thai Kitchen in Brentwood.Han Lao Laotian Food dining room

You first notice its elegant, modern American decor. However, you also get the sense that this isn’t a stuffy, high-end locale but instead has a casual air to it, particularly considering that most dishes on their menu are under $10. It looks like the kind of place you could go for a quick lunch with friends and then go again for an elegant date night.

That sense of adaptability is an accurate representation of restaurant owner Thom Chantharasy and his family. Chantharasy was born in Laos, a Southeast Asian country neighboring China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar. When he was only four, Laos experienced a civil war that saw the ruling monarch deposed by Communist forces.

“If the Communists felt like some people were particularly well-off, they would say ‘you don’t need that much’ and they would take it away,” says Chantharasy of his family’s motivation to flee Laos. “Late at night, we crossed the Mekong River into Thailand and just hoped that no one got shot. My parents, siblings, and grandparents were in a raft and none of us could swim except for my dad, so he had to make sure everyone got across safely.”

Upon reaching camps in Thailand, Chantharasy and his family were able to find sponsors who would transport them to the United States so that they could start a new life. His family initially lived in the projects of San Diego while his parents worked at a factory making windshield wipers. “My first memory of America was the pilot of our plane giving me those little plastic wings,” Chantarasy says. “We didn’t have much growing up. My mom tried to make American food to help us assimilate, so when I was 10 she made me a pizza but she used ketchup instead of tomato sauce. I told her that I preferred her Laotian cooking.”

Chantharasy eventually went to college in Tennessee and then lived in Memphis with his wife. It was there that he got his start in the restaurant business, and he had the choice of running a restaurant in either Memphis or St. Louis. He and his wife chose St. Louis, where Chantharasy eventually started his own Japanese restaurant, Robata, in Maplewood. Building off the success of Robata, Chantharasy later opened Han Lao to help his children connect with his culture.

“I started this restaurant with the idea of giving my kids more opportunities to eat the food from my side of the family. I want them to be able to eat Laotian food whenever they want.”

Han Lao Laotian Food bar

The people of St. Louis are fortunate beneficiaries of this decision, as they now also get to experience the Laotian food of Chantharasy’s youth. Chantharasy understands how many may not be familiar with Laotian cuisine, and so he decided to have his restaurant serve Thai food as well. “We advertise as a Laotian and Thai food place, and we use Thai food as a buffer. Most people haven’t had Laotian food, so the Thai food gets them in and then they notice the Laotian food and give it a try.”

Laotian food shares many traits with other Southeast Asian dishes, yet it maintains a distinct emphasis on powerful tastes. “People say Lao food is spicy, but to me it’s a combination of different things,” Chantharasy says. “You can have it sweet, sour, salty, and savory all at the same time or you can have one flavor at a time. It’s similar to Thai food except Laotian food can be spicier and more sour. We go through a full case of limes in 3-4 days.”

This combination of sensations was evident in the Khao Poon, a signature dish of Laotian culture. “If you go to a birthday party, 99% of families would make this,” Chantharasy says. “We make ours using red curry and coconut milk, but there are also different variations of it.” The spice of the curry and the sourness from the lime stand out in this dish, creating a special blend of strong flavors without being overwhelming. The coconut pork broth and assorted vegetables complete the dish in traditional Southeast Asian fashion. Other Laotian dishes include Khao Piak Sen, which is similar to chicken noodle soup with its chicken broth and rice noodles, and Thum Muk Huong, a dish of smashed green papaya with pork rinds.

Laotian Food Thum Muk Huong

Other options at Han Lao include Thai staples such as Pad Thai and Pad See Ew, as well as Vietnamese-style chicken pho. There are also a plethora of meat options, with their chicken skin appetizer and grilled short ribs.

The unique emphasis on spiciness and sourness differentiates Laotian food from other seemingly similar types of cuisine. And while Laos may be a foreign country to many, Han Lao gives the people of St. Louis the unique opportunity to hear the story of Chantharasy’s family, including the sacrifices and hardships they have overcome to get here. “I want people to enjoy Laotian food, and to know that spicy is okay,” Chantharasy says. “My mom said she’s proud because she didn’t expect my food to be good. I told her it wouldn’t be as good as hers, but she said it’s pretty close.”

Visit :
Han Lao
Monday to Thursday 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM;
Friday & Saturday 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM
1250 Strassner Drive, St. Louis, MO 63144
(314) 932-1354

About the Author:
Jeet Das is a medical student that grew up in St. Louis and has lived in Los Angeles and Boston. He can likely be found at a nearby buffet.

Abyssinian Restaurant

Abyssinian Cuisine

As I walked eagerly over to my destination, I began to feel the chill of the night air as the sun descended behind the clouds. The dusk from the evening sun just lightly illuminating the restaurant’s sign. Ethiopian Eritrean Abyssinian Cuisine. I was prompt to catch the owners of the restaurant at the opening.

While waiting down the pathway leading to the front of Abyssinian Cuisine for its open, I noticed a man mingling in close proximity to where I stood. Cliff, whom I later discovered in conversation worked as a dishwasher for Moses and Sophia Russom’s restaurant. As we both waited, occasionally peering through the front glass windows, for someone to unlock the front door - Cliff to begin his shift and myself to dive in to a serving of Ethiopian cuisine - Cliff noted to me that the owners are usually always on time. I glanced down at my phone to check the time. 5:05 pm. And as I lifted my head, I saw a woman appeared in the door turning over the CLOSED sign to OPEN. Cliff and I entered, Sophia greeting us with a warm smile and welcome as we passed through the doorway. The dining area is cozy with incandescent lamps mirroring either sides of the artfully ornamented walls.

Abyssinian Cuisine

I walked to the end of the restaurant; Abyssinian Cuisine, and took a seat around the bar. Just across from me, Sophia and Moses’ 7-year-old son sat doing his homework. Moments later, Moses came out of the kitchen and placed a menu in front of me. After perusing through the menu for quite some time I settled on an appetizer. Dibulbul Tibs, marinated meatballs mixed with onions, green peppers seasoned with herbs and spices. The entrée arrived on a bed of lettuce sliced tomato, and onion. The meatballs were tender and well-seasoned. The tomato lettuce and onion came together like a salad and were drizzled with a light vinaigrette pepper dressing.

Along with my appetizer, Moses brought out a sample of injera and cooked vegetables for me to try. Injera, is a traditional style Ethiopian flatbread. It is made from sourdough and takes on a spongy-like texture. It is a staple in Eritrean cuisine.
“Some places (In Ethiopia), it is eaten morning, noon, and dinner… once you like it, you crave for it”, says Moses.

Dibulbul Tibs, marinated meatballs served on a bed of romaine lettuce with diced tomatoes and onions.

Dibulbul Tibs, marinated meatballs served on a bed of romaine lettuce with diced tomatoes and onions.

He demonstrated to me the custom way to eat injera. Typically, it is eaten with the hands. A piece is torn off and then used to scoop up the meat or side it is being eaten with. A vast majority of the menu is served with injera, but entrees served with rice are available as well.

As I continued to finish up my appetizer, people began filling in Abyssinian Cuisine. A diverse flow of people came in and out. Although Ethiopian food is not very popular in the Hartford region of Connecticut, Moses says he gets a lot of new customers all the time. While the restaurant itself has been around for over 10 years it just reopened in December of 2018.

Over the last couple years, they experienced some issues with their heating system. Abyssinian Cuisine went two winters with no heat. Just last winter, one of the pipes burst, flooding the restaurant and caused its temporary closing. During this time, Moses shared they lost a lot of customers.

His wife Sofia does a majority restaurant’s cooking along with two other chefs. Their family also helping out when needed. It was his brother-in-law to whom he modeled his restaurant after. His brother in law owns his own pizza restaurant out in California.

After migrating to the U.S., and living in Connecticut for only two years, Moses and Sophia opened their restaurant, in the hopes of introducing the Eritrean culture and food to America. Moses’s family hails from the Tigrigna tribe in Northern Ethiopia (Eritrea). There are 9 different ethnic groups in Eritrea, with 9 different languages. Tigrigna is among the 9 ethnic groups shared Moses to me.

Sprinkled throughout the restaurant, cultural artifacts, sculptures and paintings reflect their homeland and different tribes of Ethiopia. The restaurant’s name, as Moses explained is derived from the ancient name for the northern region of Ethiopia, Abyssinia.

Yesega Alicha Be Dnish, seasoned beef, carrots, and potatoes served with mashed lentils and steamed cabbage over injera (Ethiopian style flatbread).

After finishing my appetizer, I had decided I would return on another day to try a full-sized entrée. On my second visit, I had a comrade of mine accompany me. I came this time on a less busy day.
I ordered the Yesega Alicha Be Dnish, beef and potatoes cooked with vegetable oil, garlic, carrots, onions and green peppers served with injera of course.

Yesega Alicha Be Dnish, seasoned beef, carrots, and potatoes served with mashed lentils and steamed cabbage over injera (Ethiopian style flatbread).

My friend ordered the Doro Wot. Moses says this is favorite dish on the menu. The Doro wot is tender chicken marinated in lemon, sautéed in seasoned butter stewed in red pepper sauce flavored with onions, garlic and ginger root. It is served with Abyssinian homemade cottage cheese, a boiled egg and injera.

As we ate, Moses explained some of what goes into the food. The Doro Wot, uses a special Awaze sauce. There are 16 different spices used in the awaze sauce.

“It’s what gives the flavor of the food”, Moses exclaimed. “Back home, normally at the house, you have somebody who knows how many of what kind of (spices) to combine”.

This spice mixture is actually brought back from Ethiopia and is completely organic. For the awaze sauce to come out just right, one must know exactly what amount of spices to use, otherwise other flavors can become overpowering.

Doro Wot, spiced chicken with hard-boiled eggs served over injera (Ethiopian style flatbread).

Doro Wot, spiced chicken with hard-boiled eggs served over injera (Ethiopian style flatbread).
Baklava, a popular sweet North African dessert

After our entrées, we finished up with dessert – Baklava. Baklava is a pastry, layered with walnuts and syrup. When it arrived, I sliced my fork in and was surprised to find that it was a rather thick texture almost hardened even. It is very sweet, sure to curb any sugar craving.

Baklava, a popular sweet North African dessert.

Whether sweet or savory, there was definitely no lack of zest in Abyssinian Cuisine. For Moses, his dream for the restaurant is to be just that - “To grow…and have the best Eritrean food and flavor.”

Moses Russom, owner of Abyssinian Cuisine Restaurant.

Visit:
Abyssinian Restaurant
533 Farmington Ave, Hartford, CT 06105
(860) 218-2231

Hours:

Monday 5:00pm – 9:30pm
Tuesday 5:00pm – 9:30pm
Wednesday 5:00pm – 9:30pm
Thursday 5:00 pm – 9:30pm
Friday 5:00pm – 9:30pm
Saturday 5:00pm – 10pm
Sunday CLOSED