CLOSED // At long last injera: Ethiopian food comes to HNL

I started this blog with the happy discovery of a good pain au chocolat—something that did not exist in Honolulu before Fendu Boulangerie opened. On Thursday another non-indigenous craving was sated—at a pop-up Ethiopian restaurant. Now, every Thursday, J2 Asian Fusion, the offshoot of Praseuth Luangkhot’s JJ Bistro in Kaimuki, hosts Addis Ababa Hawaii’s Ethiopian Thursdays. Meron and James Spencer launched the event just three weeks ago—and 82 people showed up. On the event’s second night, 75 came for dinner, and this week the place was packed as well. A lot of the diners are some of Honolulu’s brightest academic stars—James is a political science professor at the University of Hawai‘i, so you can imagine what his email invitation list is like. (That’s how I found out about the dinner, from my American Studies superstar prof friend.) Meron is from Addis Ababa and she’s earned a name among friends for her dinner parties. The next step was taking it public.

The result is Ethiopian Thursdays, with Meron in the kitchen and James getting the word out and chatting up guests. The cuisine that has colonized the restaurant guides of cities from Seattle to New York is finally available here. And judging by the turnout, people have been gnashing their teeth waiting for some doro wot.

Central to the Ethiopian meal is injera—a crêpe in shape, but a sourdough in flavor. It serves as plate and utensil—pretty genius. Injera is made from teff—a (gluten-free!) grain endemic to Ethiopia, and the Spencers ship it in from mainland distributors. Having no previous restaurant experience, the couple is learning about suppliers as to go along—after making injera from one of their early teff shipments, they found the bread strangely gritty. They learned the flour had been cut with sand. (If you’re used to having an extra plate of injera with your meal, as one of my dining companions is, don’t wait for it—it won’t come. At this point the Spencers need to be judicious with their teff.)

Up to now Ethiopian Thursdays has been a three-course prix fixe dinner, but next week it goes à la carte. If you’re familiar with the cuisine, you’ll find all your favorites—tibs wot (spicy beef stew), leba kibs (marinated, pan-fried lamb cubes), and that veggie combo of misir wot (lentil stew), gomen wot (collard greens), cabbage-potato mix and beets. There is something the way the slight sourness of the injera tempers the berbere spice in the wot that create an umami tsunami.

Not yet on the menu is kitfo—Ethiopia’s piquant version of steak tartare. The Spencers want to gauge whether there will be demand for it—they don’t want a fridge full of raw meat to go to waste (though kitfo is also served cooked). So if you like kitfo, and you go to Ethiopian Thursdays, let them know that if kitfo was on the menu, you would surely order it.

The Spencers wonder if, after this initial rush of wot and tibs lovers, customers will continue to sustain the Ethiopian enclave. I think the initiated and Ethiopian-curious alike will make immediate plans to return after sampling Meron’s cooking. Tip: While you’re waiting for food (it takes a little while), walk uphill to Tamura’s for a beverage. The manager there is nuts about Ethiopian food and he’ll steer you to great pairings.

Addis Ababa Hawai‘i’s Ethiopian Thursdays, 5-9:30pm, c/o J2 Asian Fusion, 3441 Wai‘alae Ave at 9th Ave (across the street from Town), 628-8461, Reservations recommended—or you might find yourself cooling your heels on the sidewalk. BYOB.

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15 thoughts on “CLOSED // At long last injera: Ethiopian food comes to HNL

  1. fun blog, but if I may make a suggestion, the gray color scheme for your text links (archives, blogroll) is almost impossible to read against the dark red background. If you want a dark color background, you have to use much brighter text.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I’ll change the gray so it doesn’t look like it’s vibrating anymore.

  2. We’ve been hoping for Ethiopian food in Honolulu! Kitfo is one of the world’s great beef dishes. They will make it if you order ahead, which I urge you to do. And tell your friends. Per Jim’s email in reply to my reservation, “We can only keep offering ETHIOPIAN NIGHT if we have a reliable customer base!”

    Next, I hope they can figure out the injera situation. If you’ve never had it, injera has an amazingly complex flavor.

    1. Thanks so much for the tip! I will be sure to make an advance order for kitfo next time I go.

  3. I never write posts or reviews, but I was ready to pop out of my chair when I read from a friend’s Facebook page that Ethiopian food is here! I love Ethiopian food!!! I was a college student in Seattle 25 years ago and going out to eat Ethiopian food was the way I loved to celebrate the end of a quarter. When I was back in Seattle a couple of years ago, I had to eat Ethiopian food again. I will figure out which day works best to eat at your restaurant and will email you. I cannot wait!!!! Thank you for bringing Ethiopian food to Hawaii!!!

  4. I called to make a reservation but Meron said
    they are currently closed as they look for a place of their own. May I suggest the many new little places near Chinatown? So waiting for the grand opening of Addis Hawaii. Please hurry! I’m starving! 🙂

  5. Can anyone tell me if this is still going? I’m coming to HI for a month and trying to decide if I should ship my Ethiopian spices and make my own Doro Wat? Need Injera, though. Deb

    1. Dear Habisha, As far as I can tell, Addis Ababa Hawai‘i is currently not popping up anywhere. Thanks for your query! aloha, Eatizen Jane

      1. Thank you, Eatizen Jane. Too bad they shut down. Maybe I should start my own restaurant in Honolulu. BTW, I’m loving it here!

      2. You should! There was a lot of interest in the pop up. We need an Ethiopian restaurant here! Glad to hear you’re loving O‘ahu!

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