THE ETHIOPIAN SCENE IN CHICAGO has grown since my visit to the city during the summer of 2010. There’s a new restaurant, a few new markets that sell Ethiopian spices and other items, and at least one place to buy Ethiopian beer by the case. Here’s what’s new:

♦ Meseret Woldemedhin moved from Ethiopia to Chicago 10 years ago and worked as a waitress in the city for many years, including a stint at Ras Dashen, one of the city’s established Ethiopian restaurants. But now Merese (sounds like “mercy”) has opened her own restaurant at 6322 North Broadway, just a few blocks up the street from Dashen.

A glass of t'alla at Awash

It’s called Awash, and it offers something that the city’s other restaurants don’t: homemade t’alla, the Ethiopian traditional beer. (Read my earlier post on t’alla.) Merese makes hers using barley, corn and finely powdered gesho. She also flavors it slightly with the wood of the wayra – that is, the olive tree – burning the wood and letting the smoke fill the vessel for flavor and aroma. T’alla is on the menu, but preparing it takes a while, and Merese can’t make large batches, so you have to be lucky enough to eat there when she has some available. Merese says Ethiopians rarely order it because, back home, they’re used to getting it for free from neighbors. So that leaves more for her non-Ethiopian patrons. She also serves homemade t’ej, which is easier to ferment and in greater abundance.

♦ If you’re looking for the perfect gift for your Ethiophile friend, consider a visit to Delina B., a new Ethiopian gift shop located at 4826 North Broadway, just half a block from Demera, one of the city’s numerous Ethiopian restaurants. The shop has CDs, t-shirts, shawls and other clothing items, along with etan (Ethiopian incense) and a shelf of spices.

The owner, Berhane Leake, named the store for his daughter, Delina Berhane. He’s also the new distributor for Dashen Beer, made by a brewery in Gondar, Ethiopia, and until now impossible to find around Chicago. It’s a tasty beer, a little sweet with a light citrus flavor. Berhane doesn’t sell Dashen at Delina B.: He distributes it by the case to restaurants, working together with Denekew (Danny) Getahun, a Chicago man who’s been distributing other brands of Ethiopian beer for several years through his company, Blue Nile Enterprises.

Ethiopian Beer by the Case

♦ There’s a several-block section of Chicago’s Argyle Street, a few blocks north of Delina B., that’s lined with Vietnamese restaurants, markets and shops serving that community. But right in the middle of it all you’ll find Atlantic Wines & Liquors, and right in the middle of Atlantic you’ll find Ethiopian beer by the case.

The shop sells Bedele, St. George and sometimes Dashen beer in 24-bottle cases for around $37. The owners are neither Vietnamese nor Ethiopian, just local business people who bring a diverse selection of potables to the neighborhood. The shop is located at 1040 W. Argyle St. (Read my earlier post on Ethiopian wine and beer.)

♦ Double Apple Market, at 5977 N. Clark St., isn’t near the Broadway cluster of Ethiopian businesses. It’s an Ethiopian-owned mini-mart, and along with its stock of general items, it sells a few Ethiopian spices and some injera.

♦ As for the old: Mama Desta’s Red Sea, the city’s first Ethiopian restaurant, closed in 2009 after 25 years in business, the victim of a shift in the tide of Ethiopian restaurants. The building, at 3216 N. Clark St., remains empty, and Red Sea’s awning still hovers over the entranceway. But The Alley, a business located four storefronts away on North Clark, has leased a little bit of the space to create a display window for its goods. The shop sells leather clothing to bikers and does piercings. Times change.

Demera, the Ethiopian restaurant at 4801 North Broadway, continues to be popular on a corner with several other trendy restaurant choices. On Aug. 3, just a half a block away, the Aragon Theater hosted President Obama’s 50th birthday party fundraiser, and when the event ended, around 8:30 p.m., a line of hungry post-party revelers formed at Demera. Some of the chattering politicos still wore their Obama ’12 buttons and stickers.

Demera has a full bar, but along with its selection of Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian wines and beers (including Dashen), it offers some Ethiopian-influenced concoctions of its own. The Koshasa, from the Amharic word for “filthy,” is a dirty martini, with vodka and olive juice, and “with a fiery kiss of awazi sauce served chilled in a spice-rimmed glass.” The Addis Abeba is a margarita spiced with ginger, cardamom and hibiscus. The Ethiopian Sunrise is chilled vodka, mango and cranberry juice, topped with a cherry. The house wine cooler is “honey wine served sparkling over ice.”

Kukulu's Ethiopian Mitad

♦ Things continue to grow at Kukulu Market, 6129 North Broadway, the city’s first and still largest Ethiopian market (in fact, it’s the only market that just sells Ethiopian foods, books and CDs). The shop has more variety than ever, including large sacks of teff distributed by Ethiopian business owners from Ohio and Minnesota, some of it imported from Ethiopia. Assefa Eshete, the shop’s owner, sells injera made by several Ethiopian women in the community, but he also makes injera right in the market on an electric mitad from Ethiopia. That’s is what modern Ethiopians use to make injera. In the more traditional tribal areas of the country, women make their daily bread on larger clay mitads heated by a flame from beneath it.

♦ Finally, I’ll mention once more my favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the city: Lalibela, located at 5633 N. Ashland Ave., on a corner in a more residential neighborhood. It’s not a place you’ll happen upon, although it’s just a block from the bustling business district of North Clark Street. I talked about Lalibela in an earlier post, and soon after that, patrons arrived at the restaurant and told Sam, the owner (along with his wife, Hirut), that they’d read about it online. Then more patrons told him the same thing, so he looked up my piece.

I’m glad I was able to send some new patrons to this charming and delicious restaurant, and I’m always happy to visit Chicago, a city whose residents are fortunate to have a well-developed and growing Ethiopian food community.

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh