Food & Drink

You Gotta Try This: Ethiopian scrambled eggs come with a kick

This is the fourth installment of “You Gotta Try This,” The Sacramento Bee’s series featuring one particular must-have dish or drink at a local restaurant. Each featured dish or drink is nominated by a reader. Got a menu item you want to shine some light on? Comment below or email reporter Benjy Egel at begel@sacbee.com.

“Who knew the best eggs in town were served at an Ethiopian restaurant?”

A reader’s glowing recommendation sent The Bee out to 1346 Fulton Ave., where Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant sits somewhat secluded in an Arden Arcade strip mall. On a menu ripe with stews and cubed meat, Abyssinia’s scrambled eggs — listed as “inqulal tibs” — are a flavor-rich twist on a Sunday morning staple and will fill most customers up for just $9.

Owner/chef Elfinesh Beri starts by dicing half a Roma tomato and a quarter of a yellow onion. She cooks the onion in a skillet with garlic, ginger and salt for two to three minutes, then adds the tomato, cracks four eggs and slips in a spoonful of Ethiopian spiced clarified butter.

Beri waits a couple more minutes before adding a quartered jalapeno, which is served practically raw and offer juicy bursts of heat on the few bites where it’s encountered. Customers can add chicken, lamb or beef (making the dish inqulal be-siga) for another dollar.

Inqulal tibs comes served with salad or collard greens on a bed of injera, a grayish, spongy sourdough flatbread that doubles as a utensil. Abyssinia will supply forks upon request, but nearly all Ethiopian dishes are traditionally eaten pinched between handfuls of injera. Two extra rolled-up pieces are served on the side as well.

Abyssinia makes its injera dough by mixing three parts teff flour with one part barley flour, adding water and letting the mixture ferment over three to four days. The dough is then cooked on a stovetop like a pancake and set aside to cool before being served.

Beri immigrated from Ethiopia to San Jose 28 years ago and worked for IBM for eight-and-a-half years. Fed up with Bay Area culture, she moved to Sacramento with her husband and children in 2000 but had difficulty finding work, she said.

Beri had grown up working in her family’s restaurant, though, and figured she could manage her own in Sacramento. She opened Addis Ababa, named for her hometown and the largest city in Ethiopia, at the corner of Alta Arden Expressway and Fulton Avenue in 2002.

Addis Ababa survived seven years, including several as the only Ethiopian restaurant in town, before Beri closed it to spend more time raising her three children. She ran a doughnut shop for another seven years to make ends meet, then opened Abyssinia – named for the kingdom that ruled present-day Ethiopia for seven centuries until 1974 – in 2012.

About 10,000 people of Ethiopian descent live in the Sacramento area, Beri said, but those people only account for about 2 percent of Abyssinia’s sales. Most can make dishes such as gored gored (raw beef cubes in a spicy chili paste) and ye-doro wat (spicy chicken stew with hard-boiled eggs and onions) at home, Beri said. They come to Abyssinia mostly to buy injera, which can be time-consuming and difficult to make in a residential kitchen, as well as native spices the restaurant gets from importers.

Every customer gets asked the same question upon ordering: “have you eaten Ethiopian food before?” If not, Beri or her staff of three children – Nani, Amanuel and Andu – might tell them about its inherent hotness, mime an injera pinch using a napkin or recommend a sampler platter to try a range of dishes.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s a lot of Ethiopians in Sacramento for a restaurant like us,” Beri said. “White, Asians, black people, Mexicans, Indians, everybody’s our customer.”

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
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