Juba Restaurant & Cafe
Outside the context of the restaurant, beef suqaar could be a dish of almost any culture; the simple, quickly cooked meal of chopped beef with sliced bell peppers, onions and peas doesn’t offer an immediate sense of place. However, its accompaniments do: Beyond the heady, spiced pile of meat, the tray comes with a mile-high stack of chapati—griddled flatbread—perfect for shoveling the turmeric-dyed beef into your mouth. Indulge in a free cup of tea (black or spiked with chai-like spices and milk), or sunshine orange juice, and paint your plate like a Jackson Pollock with the sinus-clearing spicy green and mild white sauces on the table. $12.
Know before you go: Many Somali dishes come with an unpeeled banana on the side—but don’t pocket it for a snack later. It’s intended to be eaten with the meal, a condiment of sorts, not on its own. Tukwila, 14223 Tukwila International Blvd.; 206.242.2011
Ethiopian restaurants often offer easy entrée into their repertoire by including combination plates on their menus, allowing those unfamiliar with the cuisine an opportunity to sample a variety of dishes. But take time to dig deeper and you’ll find treasures—like kitfo—waiting. Unlike steak tartare, the more common chopped raw beef dish to which it’s often compared, kitfo draws its richness from a warm spiced butter, rather than raw egg. Although the meat is uncooked, the butter gives it a gentle warmth, enhanced by the spices. When eaten in combination with the cool, fresh farmer’s cheese that accompanies it, and with injera bread used as a utensil, each bite is a study in contrast: in texture, temperature and flavor. $13.
Know before you go: Ethiopian tradition calls for the meat to be raw, but most places in town will default to cooking it lightly unless otherwise requested, so be sure to specify your preference when you order. Northgate, 1510 NE 117th St.; 206.365.0757; jebenacafe.com
It’s a toss-up whether this impossibly narrow Columbia City restaurant’s most charming quality is its homey West African food or its hospitable chef/owner Mamadou Diakhate. He’ll likely take your order, and you should let him steer you toward the thiebou djeun—labeled on the menu as the Senegalese national dish—a tomato- and pepper-based fish dish cooked with cassava, eggplant, carrots and cabbage. $14.99. Columbia City, 4903 Rainier Ave. S; 206.725.1188
Ethiopia’s rich coffee tradition finds a home in Seattle’s coffee culture
Thanks to Seattle’s large population of Ethiopian immigrants, it’s long been easy to find an excellent doro wat (chicken stew) or injera (flatbread), but now local shops have started to show off Ethiopia’s greatest cultural icon: coffee. Of particular interest is the coffee brewed in a tall coffee pot called a jebena. At Cafe Avole in the Rainier Valley (6630 Rainier Ave. S; 206.359.1271), Solomon Dubie is working to make the ritual of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony more accessible to those living the busy American lifestyle by serving jebena-brewed coffee. The Ethiopian style of brewing—the world’s oldest, since coffee’s wondrous flavors and functions were first discovered in Ethiopia—mixes the water and coffee grounds together in the pot. The pot’s shape, big bottom and thin, high spout, then acts as a strainer when it’s poured.
Grounds and water are mixed together in a jebena, an Ethiopian coffee pot at Cafe Avole
The traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony involves three brewings of the same grounds in the jebena, and often takes as long as two hours, including the roasting and grinding of beans, three cups of coffee, and three refilling and re-brewings of the same coffee grounds. At Avole, Dubie is happy to keep refilling the jebena with water for customers, trying to encourage people to drink their coffee in a stress-free, relaxed manner. If you’re interested in—and have the time for—a full Ethiopian coffee ceremony, some Ethiopian restaurants offer it by request, including Jebena Cafe in Northgate and Kaffa Coffee & Wine Bar in the Rainier Valley.