Tag Archives: Eritrea

In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan takes readers on a trip of East Africa

We wrote previously about highly enjoying Hawa Hassan’s Somali recipes on Bon Appetit, so we were delighted when we learned that Hassan was releasing her first cookbook, with Julia Turshen, in late 2020, In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean. We bought In Bibi’s Kitchen for ourselves for Christmas, and are happy to report that it is delightful, both as a cookbook, and as an intimate insight into the lives of the featured cooks. The recipes in the book cover the eight African nations that border the Indian ocean: South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Eritrea. Hassan is a Somali-American chef and entrepreneur, and wanted to shed some light on the culinary traditions of East Africa, and we are so happy that this under-explored culinary region is so nicely featured in her new cookbook.

The rich trans-Indian Ocean culinary and cultural exchange is apparent in these recipes, which mix Indian, Middle-Eastern and Sub-Saharan African flavors (and tons of warm spices). We especially loved that Hassan included recipes for the spice blends in the book including the cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom redolent Xawaash (similar to Yemeni Hawaij spice blend). Another aspect of the book we particularly enjoyed was that each chapter starts with an interview with a grandma – or “Bibi” (living in Africa, or abroad) – about her life, cooking, and recipes. As an additional bonus, the on-site photographs by Khadija Farah, and food photography by Jennifer May are simply gorgeous. We have only tried a few recipes from In Bibi’s Kitchen, so far, but they have all been excellent and utilize mainly ingredients which can be obtained in a well-stocked grocery store. Vogue UK has a sampling of 3 recipes: Ma Gehennet’s Shiro (chickpea stew) from Eritrea, Zanzibar Pilau (rice) from Tanzania, and Ma Kauthar’s Mango Chile Sauce from Kenya. This weekend we aim to try a new recipe from the book: a Somali-inflected pasta dish called Suugo Suqaar (recipe here), which she previously demo-ed on Bon Appetit. Don’t delay, you can buy In Bibi’s Kitchen, from Bookshop.org here.

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Den Den: Eritrean Cuisine in Chicago

EritreanFlagBelieve it or not, we had actually already been to a few Eritrean places (not to mention many more Ethiopian ones) before sampling Den Den in Chicago (6635 N. Clark). Our first experience with Eritrean food was at the venerable Dahlak, way back in Philadelphia, before we had this blog. Philadelphia was where our foodie explorations really went into full swing, so we have a special place for the foods we learned to really like there (Vietnamese, Thai, Eritrean). Since then we have also sampled Eritrean in Washington DC at Keren, the ultimate hotbed of East African food in the US. But back to Chicago – Den Den is a quiet, inviting restaurant with a lot of light coming in from wraparound windows and big wooden tables. The Eritrean menu had a lot of overlap with Ethiopian restaurants in the area, but there were definitely some differences, and we noticed an absence of Wat dishes. And there was even spaghetti with meat sauce, something of an odd duck, but usually available at Eritrean places (and some Ethiopian) due to lingering Italian colonial influence.

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Keren Restaurant: Eritrean in Washington D.C.

Keren Restaurant & Coffee Shop
1780 Florida Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009
EritreanFlagWe are huge fans of Ethiopian food, and we heard that Washington D.C. had a thriving Ethiopian food scene, we were extremely excited. There were so many restaurants to choose from, and we were excited to see Eritrean options as well. We had tried Eritrean food previously in Philadelphia, and we were happy to revisit it. Since Ethiopia and Eritrea were the same country until the early 1990s, the cuisines are very similar, though there are some subtle differences, especially the greater prevalence of seafood on the menu because Eritrea is coastal. Keren Restaurant (named after the 2nd largest city in Eritrea) is located in the bustling D.C. neighborhood of Adams Morgan, which has a wide variety of restaurants of all cuisines. We arrived at Keren on a Saturday night, and when we arrived there was a good mix of college kids and families. The atmosphere was convivial and cozy, and the restaurant was simply decorated with murals of Eritrea (plus a surprising number of TVs). Keren2
The menu at Keren is very small in terms of traditional dishes, there are only a handful of either meat or veggie options. We also noticed a sizable Italian selection, including pasta and breaded chicken cotoletta, which makes sense since Eritrea is a former Italian colony. We were also excited the Keren delved into some more unusual options. For example, there were a wide selection of breakfast options featuring Ful (mashed fava beans) and Silsi (a traditional tomato-based sauce). We ordered the beef tibs and the veggie sampler (lentils, chickpeas, cabbage, spinach and potato dishes) to share among ourselves. We were pleasantly surprised that each entree was less than $10, which is far lower than most comparable restaurants. In addition to the injera, we got an order of traditional Eritrean unleavened wheat flat bread called Kitcha, which we had not seen on any other menus. Kitcha was definitely denser and more pita-like than injera and we have to admit it was much easier to eat with the injera since it was much more flexible.

We enjoyed all of the choices we sampled: the sauces were rich and flavorful (not too spicy), and there was definitely something to satisfy both meat-lovers and vegetarians.  We finished up the night with an Eritrean coffee (it was billed as a coffee shop after all), which was very similar to the Ethiopian coffees we had tried previously. We highly recommend Keren as an awesome place to get delicious, low-key Eritrean food, with no pretense, and at great prices.


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