Merkato offers Ethiopian favorites you might not realize you’ve already enjoyed

Merkato’s vegetarian combo
Photo: Beverly Poppe
Jim Begley

Entering Merkato, you’re immediately immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of another land—foreign tongues and frankincense blend in the background. Don’t fear, though; further investigation will lead you to some familiar dishes, albeit with slightly more unique flavor profiles.

A good starting point is the yemisir sambusas ($1.50), akin to Indian samosas. The tasty, deep-fried, lentil-stuffed puff pastries provide an ideal introduction to Eastern African cuisine. Another dish that might resemble more familiar food is the yebeg wot ($8.50), a robust lamb stew masquerading as a buttery, smoky curry. This dish, like all of Merkato’s main courses, is served both atop and alongside injera, traditional spongy Ethiopian bread not unlike a crepe, which serves as both your serving platter and utensil.


Merkato Ethiopian Cafe
855 E. Twain Ave., 796-1231
Daily, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.

Another déjà vu experience awaits in Ethiopian staple kitfo, steak tartare’s bolder brother. My favorite is the special kitfo ($8.50), made with spinach and lab (Ethiopian cheese). I suggest washing down its spiciness dish with a Meta Beer ($3.50), a traditional Ethiopian lager that presents a nice balance of sweetness and malt.

Service is friendly but casual, so be prepared to linger for a bit. And make time for the traditional coffee ceremony ($15.00 for up to 10 people). This half-hour tasting of three progressively weakening cups of coffee roasted before you is a perfect way to wrap up your Ethiopian experience. Talk with friends over coffee—what could be more familiar than that?


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