Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant

1118 U Street
Washington D.C. 20009
202.667.8735
websiteDukem (Washington, D.C.)3 stars

Washington DC attracts people from all over the world for business, so it’s to be expected that the dining scene here has some of the most interesting world cuisine you can find in America. Among the most interesting spots along U Street is Dukem, a small bar and restaurant that serves Ethiopian foods popular across the world but very hard to find in the United States. If you’re unfamiliar, there’s a lot to learn, but the food here is fantastic either way.

Dukem - Vegetarian Platter

 

Ethiopian food consists of a lot of different ingredients served in small portions atop a slightly spongy flatbread called “injera.” The idea is you can mix and match to your liking. Some items to try:

  • Lamb tibs: Tibs is a Ethiopian preparation method for meat where it is chopped up and sauteed with vegetables. The result is a very juicy dish with spices that give it a slight warm heat.
  • Berbere: This is more of a garnish than a main course, but it’s served to accentuate the many dishes on the plate. It’s a mixture of spices including chili power, garlic, basil, and a number of herbs local to Africa. Produces a very savory and a little spicy flavor.
  • Wat: This is something like a curry stew, served with the aforementioned berbere, mixed with some meat and a clarified butter called “niter kibbeh.” There are a bunch of ways to make it, and each of the several I tried was a very different experience.
  • Kitfo: Minced beef marinated in a chili-based spice blend and clarified butter. It’s an unusual flavor, especially when the beef is generally uncooked for preparation.
  • Gomen: This is a special Ethiopian preparation for collared greens. They’re boiled, dried, finely chopped and served with butter and spices. Another ingredient you’d be used to in American cuisine that gets a bit of a spicy twist with those specialty spices.
  • Shiro: A stew made from chickpeas and broad bean meal. This dish is spiced heavily with onions and garlic. Sometimes it’s  got chili or ginger. Adds in interesting lighter complement to the heavy meat dishes.
  • Timita salata: A sort of Ethiopian tomato salad with diced tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and peppers. At first  glance it looks like salsa, but the different spices produce an entirely different, more savory flavor.

The menu is full of Ethiopian specialties like those above, and indeed an outsider to the culture will easily find a menu full of unfamiliar names and terms. Fear not though, the food is in the end very approachable. The service at the spot can be spotty, but in the end the restaurant provides an experience to try a whole new kind of food. It’s a real foodie’s adventure and a definite challenge to the typical palette you’d find in a major American city.

Recommendations

  • Large groups can try the combination platters like the kind shown above, served with a flatbread called “injera.” Inexpensive.
  • The spot is also a bar where many imported beers can be found.
  • The tibs are a great first dish for meat-lovers to try.

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