Mahope Restaurant

“Ma’s Hope”- Cambodian Restaurant

Location:

Mahope is located in the North Side, Cincinnati. Northside is on the west side of town and is known for their historic, yet eclectic nature. In a sea of eccentric buildings, Mahope stands out with its bright blue exterior.

Meet The Owners:

Vy Sok is the owner of Mahope along with her husband and business partner, Mike. Vy was originally born in Thailand after her family fled from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide. In 1984, Vy and her family moved to America, where Vy eventually realized her dream of opening her own restaurant. Vy fantasized of having her own family recipes on a menu of her own. As a young girl, Vy’s mother was hopeful she would turn her dreams into reality. This inspired a name for the restaurant. The direct translation of “Mahope” in Cambodian is “food”, but the English translation “Ma’s Hope” was perfectly fitting for what Vy and her mother had envisioned years ago. Pursuing her passion, Vy completed the Mortar program in Cincinnati, Ohio, a program supporting young urban entrepreneurs. In 2017, she opened a Mahope food truck at Urban Artifact, a food, craft beer, and music event in downtown Cincinnati. In 2018, Mahope was at Cincinnati’s Taco Fest, where Vy received an award for her  now famous “cheesecake taco” (see below). Transitioning from a pop-up patio at a restaurant in downtown Cincinnati, Mahope finally found its home in North Side.

The Food:

I asked Vy to describe traditional Cambodian food in three words and she said: “savory”, “earthy” and “fresh”. Cambodian food is traditionally cooked with a lot of herbs and fresh ingredients including lots of lemongrass, turmeric, kaffir lime and cilantro! Mahope is sensitive to different types of eating styles. For example, there is no fish sauce included in any of the recipes (although it can be added on the side) to cater to vegetarians and because the recipes are made with vegetables and rice noodles, most of the items on the menu are also gluten-free. In addition, a Cambodian classic, pickled papaya is also included in many of the recipes!

To begin, I started with the Ban Chao Roll which consists of cabbage, onion, scallions, ground pork & cilantro rolled in rice flour crepes served with Sweet & Sour vinaigrette with roasted peanuts. A crunchy, fresh and flavorful appetizer!

Next, I had the Bone Broth Kathiew with shrimp, a Cambodian soup with rice noodles is garnished with cabbage, cilantro, and lime with rice noodles. This soup, similar to Vietnamese pho, is a perfect combination of earthy and savory in flavor and soft and crunchy in texture.

The Cambodian Chicken Taco is a Cambodian twist to tacos. When I asked Vy if there was a challenge integrating Cambodian cuisine to the Cincinnati culture, she replied in the affirmative, but mentioned how the chicken tacos at Mahope are a good stepping stone for someone who may have never tried Cambodian food. The tacos consist of grilled and marinated chicken, cabbage, pickled papaya, sriracha aioli and cilantro served on a grilled corn tortilla. The chicken was perfectly marinated and moist, with the pickled papaya adding a Cambodian touch to a Mexican classic.

The cheesecake taco referred to previously features homemade cheesecake within a Sopapilla taco shell, topped with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and some more cheesecake. Not Cambodian, per se,  but a perfect dessert to an excellent meal nonetheless!

The Experience:

Mahope is a family friendly restaurant that offers an excellent eating experience for those curious about Cambodian cuisine.  It is a spotlessly clean restaurant, with a large Buddha that greets you at the entrance, along with the aroma of delicious South-east Asian spices. I can’t wait to go back and highly recommend to anyone in the Cincinnati area.

Visit: 

Mahope
3935 Spring Grove Ave,
Cincinnati, OH 45223
513-499-7176

Hannah Thornsburg is a Cincinnati local with a creative palate and a passion for food. As a young professional, she loves to try different cuisines around town!

Zoma Restaurant

In an increasingly fast-paced world, restauranteur Zeleke Belete of Zoma cherishes the Ethiopian tradition of communal eating. These customs create a welcoming space, where food is lovingly made and traditions kept vibrant. Zoma boasts bright colors, sounds, and scents reminiscent of Zeleke’s home. Ethiopian music plays on a screen in the background, showcasing the elaborate dance routines of the country’s various tribes. Oil paintings of figures in traditional dress line the soft pastel green walls.

Lunch

For the lunch special, I selected the misir kik, a spicy red lentil stew, and the alicha wat, a mild beef stew. Both came on a bed of injera, the sour spongy bread that forms the foundation of each dish. A wreath of injera rolls surrounds the two mounds. The hearty portion satisfies both my greed and desire for leftovers. The first bite of the beef stew, pinched between a ravenously torn piece of injera, is pure savory warmth. Caramelized onion, ginger, and garlic permeate the tender beef cubes and infuse into the injera base. My first bite of lentils is a fiery hit of flavor, an instant exhilarating rush that brings sweat to my nose and upper lip. Only after tasting the lentils did I fully appreciate the milder, sweeter notes of the beef stew.

Ethiopian food uses lots of onions. Zeleke smiles, recounting the shock on distributors’ faces when they see the fifteen to twenty bags of onions he and his family purchase each week.

During his trips back to Ethiopia, Zeleke and his family stock up on organic spices from home. Spices are the essence of Ethiopian cuisine: among them, red pepper, cardamom, ginger, garlic, and turmeric in different combinations create complex warmth. The order of spices is essential in shaping the flavor profile of each dish. Zeleke explains that when you add garlic to the beef stew, it makes all the difference in the balance of flavors.

Injera is an Ethiopian restaurant’s barometer of success. The spongy starch is made of teff, an Ethiopian grain, and a unique fermentation process creates the signature sour flavor and tiny holes on the surface. Like sourdough, injera requires a starter, or a base culture of yeast, flour, and water used to flavor and ferment a bread product. Unfamiliar to many Western flavor palates, sourness in injera is embraced - in fact, the more sour, the better. Getting the flavor and texture is a finicky chemistry, so when a restaurant finds the right formula, it’s like striking gold. Zeleke shared that the starter for Zoma’s injera came an Ethiopian restaurant in Columbus, and the recipe for their injera is a trade secret. “I wouldn’t give away the recipe for a million dollars.”

In addition to their food offerings, every Sunday the restaurant hosts a coffee ceremony. Zoma roasts their own beans, adding additional depth of flavor with cardamom and cloves. Ethiopian coffee has a concentrated intensity and aroma foreign to many US coffee drinkers who have grown accustomed to sugar-loaded, venti brews. Its portions are served in small cups, inviting drinkers to savor each sip. “Back home, if your neighbor hears you setting up for coffee, you know they’ll be over in a matter of minutes to pay you a visit.” Zoma’s coffee ceremony hearkens back to the coffee shops that line the streets of Addis Ababa, inviting passersby to sit and share a moment of their day.

Zeleke

After applying for the immigrant visa lottery, Zeleke immigrated to the US in 2005 with his wife and family. Together with his wife, sister, and mother in law, they opened up Zoma in December 2016, taking the name from Zeleke’s mother’s birthplace. Zeleke’s roots are in the countryside, about 180 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

For Zeleke and his family, hard work and long hours are essential. Language barriers, cultural differences, and social isolation were among the initial challenges Zeleke faced when he came to America. But as long as one is willing to put in the work, he believes success will follow.

For new immigrants, he emphasizes the importance of hard work and persistence. He recalls the initially struggling to learn English, but this attitude pushed him to improve. “Some people are afraid to speak English because they think people will judge them. I don’t care – I still try. How else do you learn?”

However, his best advice to new arrivals is to “know your limits;” in other words, to respect the boundaries of one’s physical and mental abilities. “You must not lose sight of family, relationships – the important things in life.”

Zeleke is hopeful for the future. Coming up on the two-year anniversary of its debut, Zoma has captivated locals looking for authentic Ethiopian fare. Zeleke plans to expand the restaurant and add additional traditional seating arrangements to accommodate more guests. Here at Zoma, his philosophy in life and in his food is to emphasize quality over quantity: “if you take care of your customers, they’ll come back.”

About the Author:

Valerie is a proud daughter of immigrants and she believes food is a powerful way to bring people together. She is a nurse based in the greater Cleveland area, and is looking forward to more meals and insightful conversations. Her email is valerie.bai4@gmail.com.

 

Visit:

Zoma
2240 Lee Road Cleveland, OH 44118.
Phone: 216-465-3239
Telephone: 216.465.3239