Category: Ethiopian

I Got My Ethiopian Food Fix At The World Food And Music Festival, Des Moines

As a new Iowan, I have a lot of exploring to do.

Since we just moved into our new house, I haven’t gotten to venture very far. However, I did make it to Des Moines this past weekend to attend the World Food And Music Festival with friends.

The festival weaves through Des Moines’ East Village and includes food demonstrations, live music, and blocks of food vendors.

When I was younger, I looked forward to attending the Festival of Nations in the Twin Cities. This World Food Festival was even better. I even found its food more compelling than the MN State Fair’s, which is blasphemy, I know. The sheer number of vendors astounded me and they offered dishes that ranged from Ecuadorian to Czechylslovakian.

In Fargo, ND and Mason City, IA, we’ve had to adjust to having a smaller variety of restaurants than we did in the Twin Cities. We can’t just call for Korean take-out anymore, but on a positive note, I’ve learned how to cook more foods myself. When I saw and smelled all of the food possibilities at the festival, I didn’t know where to start.

Some of the vendors were run by local restaurants while others were operated by cultural groups. Every vendor offered a tasting item for only $1 and these proved to more than substantial for the price. Plus, vendors’ regular menu items did not exceed $5.

The dollar treats I tried included this steamed pork shumei dumpling with a vinegary dipping sauce from the Filipino Store, an minty spring rolls and fried egg roll from the New Oriental Food Store and a pork taco from a Korean vendor (unfortunately, this particular version did not taste very Korean).

The afternoon became very hot and we cooled down with strawberry and winter melon flavored bubble tea shakes dotted with boba pearls and fruity jellies.

Most of all, I enjoyed this plate from the Ethiopian Association of Iowa.

It included spongy rolls injera that tasted like sourdough bread, spicy beef seasoned with berbere and a flavorful mixture of tender cabbage, carrots, and green beans. It was really, really good. I vowed to learn how to make these dishes at home, although I know I’ll never be able to compete with the grandmother who I saw sitting by the stove, cooking everything fresh.

Still, this doesn’t mean I won’t try.

My friends also tried dollar samplings of chicken laarb, a sweet egg roll filled with banana, iced milk tea and toasted marshmallows from Beaverdale Confections. They made them in many flavors and customers could pick two.

This stand also prepared gooey s’mores melted between waffle cookies.

While we were at the festival, we made sure to visit Raygun who sold $10 t-shirts on the sidewalk. This only served to double my joy.

Des Moines, you have such a good thing going on with the World Food And Music Festival!

Double F Weekend: Date night at Fasika & Fabulous Fern’s

We spent our weekend alternating between Fabulous Fern’s and Fasika.

Friday evening, we mistakenly showed up at Jake’s 10 year high school reunion an evening too soon, to the confusion of Fabulous Fern’s staff.  As I alluded to in my last post, we found ourselves in Cathedral Hill, a neighborhood that I have, strangely enough, never visited.  Growing up, my family took us on rare outings to Minneapolis and St. Paul where we bravely crossed the river.  With our new-found date night, we initially ventured to Moscow on the Hill, noticed their $21.50 price point for Beef Stroganoff, and left for Fasika.  
How I fell in love with Chicken Dora Wat
During my internship at Redeemer Center for Life my first year out of college, I was introduced to Ethiopian food by a woman who was connected with the after school program for which I interned.  I assisted her in making a glimmering pot of chicken dora wat and she led me to a market in the Seward neighborhood where we bought injera.  She also introduced me to the hot, red spice mix called berbere and spiced butter called niter kibbeh which she pulled from her private stash.  She even gifted me with a small bag of berbere which I used to season everything.

Previous to this experience, I had never tasted injera and was under the impression one either had a “love it” or “hate it” reaction.  I loved injera’s soft and spongy texture and sourdough flavor upon my first taste.

Needless to say, the children and staff were enthusiastic about Aster’s chicken dora wat, rice seasoned with onion, garlic and cilantro, homemade hot sauce, and injera.  I have since visited Fasika once when I had a intense craving for chicken dora wat and have been yearning to return ever since.  This evening was the perfect opportunity to order a sampler platter with Jake who had never tried any version of African food before.

Fasika
510 N. Snelling Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104
www.fasika.com
651-646-4747

Fasika is located in Midtown and you must park on the street since the back lot is reserved for another store.  We arrived on a Friday evening around 8 p.m. and though the restaurant was buzzing with customers, we were seated quickly.  The atmosphere was friendly and cozy and filled with individuals and families of various colors, ages, socioeconomic statuses, etc.  The women staff coo’d over a young family’s newborn baby and tenderly passed her around as they took turns holding her.

To begin, we tried a couple of Ethiopian beers.  Can you tell which beer was mine?  I got scolded for the bad pour job.

Jake ordered the Harar beer, $4, to the left which had a light flavor and pleasantly sour punch which mellowed after the first taste.  I ordered a Meta, $4, a variety that our waitress mentioned was one of her favorites.  I loved the mellow flavor of the beer, while Jake preferred the tanginess of his Harar.

The Ultimate Combination
We ordered Fasika’s Ultimate Combination for $36.50.  We both wanted to try whatever Fasika was willing to bring us.  I have enjoyed reading reviews from other local food bloggers who ordered combination platters such as You Care What We Think and Lazy Lightning.

This bad food blogger forgot to her digital camera. . . again. . .

Pictured above is the Ultimate Combination platter.  This platter included both vegetarian and carnivorous delights.  Most of the meat and vegetarian dishes were slow simmered.  Exceptions to the slow-cooked/stewy style included a crispy green salad that packed unexpected heat in addition to a lamb tibs dish that included small pieces of flavorful meat laced with crusty caramelization.  We enjoyed everything on the platter.  Some of the memorable samples included a fluffy and tangy white cheese, Chicken Dora Wot (which always includes a hard boiled egg), Beef Doro Wot, tender cooked greens called Gomen, small, spiced chickpea flour dumplings, a couple lentil dishes, and vegetable stew dishes.

Of the whole platter, my personal favorites included the Wot sauce, lamb tibs, and vegetable stew called Atkilt of which I picked out every velvety slice of cabbage.  Jake’s favorite dish was the lamb tibs and lentil stew.  Although he enjoyed the injera, he was surprised by it’s texture.  We both enjoyed eating with our hands, an experience I seek and recreate whenever possible.  I feel more happy and content when I can eat with my hands.

We pretty much polished off the entire platter, leaving the flavor-soaked mat of injera which our waitress happily rolled up and packed in a to-go box.  The next morning, Jake gave me a strange look when he found me enjoying these leftovers for breakfast with a cup of coffee.  
I would not hesitate to return to Fasika.  If I went with newbies, I would order the combination platters.  However, if Jake and I went by ourselves, we would probably order a few of our favorite dishes from the Ultimate Combination.  
Fabulous Fern’s Bar & Grill
400 Selby Ave 
St. Paul, MN 
651-225-9414
http://fabulousferns.com

On Saturday, we returned to Fabulous Fern’s for Jake’s 10 year high school reunion.  I played hooky from my high school’s five year reunion, feeling that five years wasn’t quite enough time to feel quite removed.  But I couldn’t wait to curiously observe Jake’s 10 year.  I had low hopes for the food since I couldn’t recall anyone speaking or writing of Fabulous Fern’s and I remembered the chlorinated smell that permeated the entryway when we stopped by the evening before.

A large popcorn machine lay near the bar for customers to serve themselves.  I love popcorn and rank popcorn in my top two favorite smells.  Fern’s popcorn was surprisingly good, salty, and buttery.  I will embarrass myself by digging around for the brightest yellow kernels of popcorn.

As we were mingling and spending time with Jake’s posse of high school friends, we ordered from the bar menu.

The large portion of fries were crispy and covered in a tasty seasoning salt.  I’m kind of a sucker for seasoning salts. They didn’t taste like handmade fries, but I was satisfied.  They were accompanied by a runny, creamy ranch type of dip.

I stole a piece of pizza from Jake and was pleasantly surprised.  Not only was it generously sized, but the dough tasted fresh and slightly sweet.  The cheese had nice blistered, chewy, and stringy quality.  It was more chewy than crispy and I wished for a little bit more tomato sauce, but was overall impressed with the quality of what tasted like a homemade pizza.  

I ordered a cheeseburger with onion rings.  I was half hoping/anticipating to receive small and crappy burger composed of one of those previously frozen and dense patties covered in a congealed slice of processed cheese.  Every so often, I will crave this type of crappy cheeseburger.  

What I received was a large cheeseburger, cooked to my requested medium rare, covered in melted cheddar cheese.  The burger patty was loosely packed and juicy.  Even when I microwaved the leftovers the next day, the patty was still juicy.  My only complaint is that the bun was too dry and crumbly to provide adequate structural support.  As you may notice, the top bun disintegrated apart when I tried to cut the sandwich in half.  
The onion rings were crispy and covered in some kind of abrasive bread crumbing and served with another cup of the runny ranch sauce.  The onions did not slither out from the batter when I bit into the rings.  Not bad, a little greasy, not as delicious as the onion ring tree from The Depot in Alexandria.  I prefer a smooth, battered, coating.  
I had a lovely evening spending time with Jake’s high school friends and observing the interesting 10 year reunion dynamics.  While Fabulous Fern’s bar food and happy hour menu exceeded my expectations, I don’t foresee myself returning for a meal.  Especially with my increasingly growing list of restaurants I would like to try and short list of restaurants of which we loyally include in our “rotation.” 

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