One of the biggest fights of my life occurred after someone asked “What is your favorite cuisine?”
After a pondering pause—with pizzas, banh mis, and pad see-ew fly through the flavor pockets of my mind—I said:
To which they rebutted, “Ethiopian is not a cuisine.”
Let the gospel rain upon that poor naysayer. Ethiopia, and Ethiopian cuisine is an insanely rich and diverse historical treasure that speaks to my eternal taste buds. If you want to know to know more about the history of Ethiopian food, I recommend checking out Harry Kolman’s book Mesob Across America.
Ethiopian food is a tactile adventure of sour fermented injera, the rich nose-filling spice of berbere, a protein infusion of peas and lentils, sweet turmeric hued potatoes and cabbage, and greens spanning from deeply seasoned collards to bright lemon licked lettuces. The harmonious pallet offer enough diversity to sustain daily indulgence without encouraging food exhaustion… at least for me.
While my favorite spot lives in Los Angeles, San Diego’s Awash Market holds steady at number two.
Awash Market is easy to pass by, as I did, and I did many many times. With booze, coffee, flour, toiletries in the front it’s easy to overlook the outstanding food in the back. Once I overcame my intimidation of the convenience store en suite dining room, I found a kitchen that excels at all the Ethiopian vegan classics. Regarding the vegan options, while some traditional recipes call for clarified butter, the staff here has repeatedly confirmed that they proudly use oil as the fat in all their veggie dishes.
Injera – Made in house, the tender rolls of sour fermented wheat and teff are some of the freshest I’ve ever encountered. They are available for sale in the front market, and fly off the shelf for good reason. A gluten free, 100% teff, version is available if the kitchen is given a few hours notice.
Miser Wot – Split lentils and spicy red pepper brought together in a coarse and oily stew. The grease soaks through the injera base creating a sodden treat once the bulk is gone.
Kik Alicha – A mild split pea stew with onion, garlic and turmeric that tempers the palate between spicier bites.
Shiro Wot – A gorgeous slurry of ground chickpea flour, berbere, and tomato. Soft and silky on the tongue and by far my favorite dish at Awash. This treat is not usually offered on veggie combinations platters at other restaurants, so I relish receiving it as a baseline selection at Awash.
Ye’abasha Gomen – Spiced collards greens that often taste rather muddy to me at every Ethiopian restaurant. This one is no better or worst that the average gomen offering out there.
Tikel Gomen – Sweetly braised cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions with cumin, turmeric, and ginger. This is my second favorite dish at Awash.
Green Salad – Sometimes this isn’t on the platter—which is a shame. The light lemon dressing on the romaine, tomatoes and onions is notably more harmonious then the weird Italian dressing so many other Ethiopian restaurants tend to use.
Berbere – Sometimes the kitchen adds a mound of powdered and a dollop of berbere paste to accent the heat of the dish. If you like your food spicy, be sure to request these.
2884 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92104