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Washington Enjoys Taste of Ethiopian Food

A growing number of people in the Washington metro area have developed a taste for spicy Ethiopian food. Over the years, restaurants serving the unique cuisine have flourished due to booming immigration from the East African nation. Voice of America English to Africa reporter Henok Fente stopped at a restaurant that adds extra flavor to the food with live music and dance performances.

Here at the corner of 12th and U Street in Washington, D.C., the bustle seems never ending. People walk home from the nearest subway; others drive with their windows down, revealing tattooed arms, and with music booming from their cars.

At this corner the sound of drums and the smell of tropical spices relieve the commercial neighborhood of the stress of the city. African drums, the six string Kirar and tunes of praise from the Masinko can be heard at this junction, where different cultures meet.

Inside, the smell of burning incense, mingling with the scent of spicy Ethiopian stew. The sounds and smells take customers to an unfamiliar but inviting culture. This is Dukem Ethiopian restaurant, where people can dine while watching traditional East African dances and listening to a live band.

Dukem is a place that attracts everyone from college students to families. The restaurant’s owners say all are welcome. Customers must use their hands to eat from the large dish they share with friends. Communal eating is part of the custom here. The food is served on a moist flat bread called injera. Many customers agree that Ethiopian food is the ultimate experience of spicy cooking.

Kim Lee is from Atlanta Georgia, she says "I like the food, the taste, the spices. What really interests me most is the idea of communal eating. I have this special taste bud for lamb. And the lamb here in this particular restaurant was absolutely superb. Very tender, as well as with the tomato salad and the onions – it was very, very good."

The restaurant has over 40 choices on the menu, like cubed tender lamb or beef fried with onion, rosemary, jalapeno papers, and the spicy awaze sauce Ethiopia is known for. Among the selections is the traditional chicken stew known as Doro Wat in Amharic, Ethiopia’s most widely spoken language. Other signature entrees include a lamb and beef stew simmered in red hot berbere sauce. Ethiopian expatriates come to the restaurant when they crave their national dishes.

Teodros Woldetsion is from Fort McMurray, Canada. He says, "Where I live, there is no Ethiopian community. If I want injera, I have to drive 400 kilometers to Edmonton or Calgrove City to find injera. But now I am on vacation here in D.C. and there is a lot of choice all over the place. There are a lot of beautiful Ethiopian women. And I am having a blast. I am having a good time."

Question: Are you looking for a date here?

Answer: Actually, I am looking for a wife here. They told me this is Ethiopia next to Ethiopia, D.C. Instead of going to Ethiopia, I came here to find a wife.

Question: Have you found a wife?

Woldetsion says he thinks it's promising.

There are an estimated 130,000 Ethiopians living here in Washington, D.C. And business for Ethiopian restaurants has been good. However, restaurant owners are careful not to overcharge. Prices in most Ethiopian restaurants range between $6 and $12 – a bargain in a city known for expensive international cuisines.

Marisa Eriksson sells wine to different restaurants in Washington. Today she wants to see which one of her wines goes with Ethiopian food. She says, "One of the things I do is, I go out to different restaurants and I want to try the food and see how any of my wines fit in with that menu. It is also nice to make contact with people."

On a small stage in the center of the restaurant professional dancers wearing traditional white cotton dress swing to the music of the band. In the next performance, they dress in colorful traditional clothes from southern Ethiopia with monkey fur hats that wave with the rhythm. The beat at different times covers Tigrina of the North to Oromigna of the South, then to Amarigna of north-central Ethiopia.

The restaurant is open weekdays. Traditional bands play on Mondays and Wednesdays. Some people leave after dinner, but others stay and dance until midnight.