By Tim Carman |
The first time I asked for doro wat, item No. 5 on the lunch/dinner menu at CherCher Ethiopian Restaurant, the waitress acted as if my order were open-source software, free for her to alter. “We have yebeg wat,” she responded, pointing to item No. 6, a dish in which chunks of lamb are simmered until tender in a cardamom-scented sauce.
Her quick redirect had an unintended consequence: I was more curious than ever whether CherCher offered doro wat, the chicken-and-egg stew often dubbed the national dish of Ethiopia. I inquired again, then a third time. Finally, the waitress caved and confessed that the kitchen had no doro wat today. A week later, I reenacted the same scene with another waitress. It was “Groundhog Day” on Ninth Street NW, and I was trapped in a doro wat-less Ethiopian restaurant.
Later, over the phone, I asked CherCher owner Alemayehu “Alex” Abebe, essentially, WTF? After some hemming and hawing, Abebe finally let me in on a secret: Ethiopians don’t go to his restaurant for doro wat, a dish they can prepare fresher and better at home. They want kitfo or the glistening slabs of raw beef known as kurt. So why even stock chicken and eggs, just to satisfy the three-year-old menu’s promise, when the food is inevitably headed straight to the trash?
One look around the cramped, 15-seat subterranean space, and you can see the truth of Abebe’s comment. Ethiopians and Eritreans, mostly men, gather in small clumps at the bar or around a wobbly table in the corner, talking loudly in foreign tongues, oblivious to Stephen Curry’s miracles during the NBA playoffs beamed to the televisions overhead. These men have yet to adopt the dining customs of their new homeland, that ying-and-yang of engagement and smartphone silence. They’re more interested in socializing, drinking and slicing into raw beef. The Ethiopian heart beats strongly at CherCher — and hopefully will continue to do so when Abebe expands next month to the first floor and officially adds an organic chicken doro wat to appeal to the broader clientele he’ll presumably attract.
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