SEATTLE — The food at Jebena Cafe in Seattle is more than just a meal. For Mesfin Ayele and his sister, Martha Ayele, it's their life. They've been open since 2011, working from morning to evening, six or seven days a week.
Mesfin is the perfect teacher when it comes to Ethiopian food. After he says a quick prayer, it's time to eat.
Ethiopian food is unfamiliar to most people who didn't grow up with it. And there definitely is a specific way that it should be eaten.
First, you use your hand to cut a piece of injera, the bread-like vehicle for all the delicious toppings. The injera at Jebena is 100% gluten-free, made with teff flour and water that's been fermented overnight. The fermentation process is where the injera gets its sourness and bubbly texture.
Next, you choose which dish you want to try. You lay the injera flat on the dish and using your fingers, you twist and scoop to get one of the delicious dishes into your mouth.
It's that simple... tear, scoop, and enjoy!
The one-hand method is the traditional way of eating, but utensils are also available.
"Anyone can eat any way they like," said Mesfin. "We also provide a fork and spoon, but we call that cheating."
Mesfin and I enjoyed a sample platter that includes both meat and vegan favorites. It includes Doro Wat, a traditional dish that comes with a chicken drumstick, and a hardboiled egg. There's also Key Wat, which is similar to Doro Wat, but with lamb instead of chicken. Several lentil dishes, buttermilk cheese, and a salad complete the plate.
In addition to sharing their food with Seattle, Jebena Cafe has had to overcome adversity. After opening the restaurant in 2011, Martha was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Mesfin and his mother stepped in to help.
Jebena Cafe's goal is simple: to put a smile onto their customers' faces.
"We work a whole lot of hours and a whole lot of times," said Mesfin. "But what makes us rewarded is when people taste it and say 'This is great. This is the taste that I've never tasted before.'"
Jebena Cafe has its own store next door to the restaurant where you can buy ingredients for Ethiopian dishes so you can make your own at home!
Jebena Cafe | 1510 NE 117th St. Seattle, WA 98125 | (206) 365-0757