Chicken Awadhi in Virginia
Leaving work at 3:30 a.m. is never ideal, but it does summon a mighty hunger when waking up early on four hours of sleep. Craving anything other than wonderful American grease, my visiting Seattle friend and I gravitated towards the food of one of the Washington D.C. area’s largest ethnic groups: Ethiopian.
A flow of Ethiopian immigrants to the D.C. area kicked off thanks to the 1974 revolution and, in a rare show of positive action from Congress, was enabled further by the Refugee Act of 1980 and the Diversity Visa Act of 1990. Their impact is seen on a daily basis via grocery stores, public art, fashion stores, houses of worship, hookah lounges, a large proportion of the taxi fleets who actually know the city sans GPS. Also, crucially for us on a crisp autumn morning, there are incredible restaurants.
We headed to Alexandria, VA, towards the only Ethiopian place for miles that was open at 7 a.m.—or so we thought. Arriving at a closed establishment with watering mouths and stomachs powerfully rumbling for injera was heartbreaking, until the owner arrived with her young daughter. Totally prepared to plead, we started to speak but she cut us off. “If my sons came home hungry, I would make sure they had food; please come in and have a real homemade breakfast!”
We plopped down in a sleek, small dining room area and naturally chose to open the bar with a victory breakfast beer to celebrate our host’s kindness before she disappeared into the kitchen. Two St. George beers, readily available throughout the D.C. area and Addis Ababa, went down great while we waited for the Ethiopian coffee to be prepared. The owner’s daughter brought out the coffee and turned on her morning Netflix above the bar while we examined some of the artwork scattered on the walls. “No need for menus, I know what to do. Do you like spicy?” the owner yelled through the kitchen window. “Very spicy please!” we both echoed.
Stomachs rumbling, out came the huge steaming tray, stacked high with injera on the side. The collard greens were soaked with niter, Ethiopian clarified butter, with a perfect cut of cardamom. The cabbage’s cumin and turmeric duo showed us we had been missing out on our whole lives. The arrival of two more St. George beers interrupted the feast for a split second. The beef tibs were spicy enough to heat our mouths, but just shy of being painful, thanks to our host’s mercy and the cardamom, clove, and fenugreek that rounded it out.
The best dish, however, and the most plentiful, was what the owned called chicken awadhi, although it was different to the versions I’d had in India. I don’t even know what was in it aside from spice, chicken, and the kindness of an Ethiopian mother for two strangers.