Karama: An Exersice in Ethnic Eating

Being whiter than Weird Al, I often find satisfying my cravings for eats from random ethnicities to be a bit of an exercise in patience and rolling with the punches, though often with delicious rewards. Karama, a new self-described “East-African, Somali, Italian, Mediterranean and American” food restaurant was no different. Usually I will avoid any restaurant that claims to do that many different cuisines, but upon reading the menu and seeing what they offered, I instead rang up my friend M, who lived in Tanzania, and informed her of my findings.

We made a date and headed down with our boyfriends in tow. We had another event to go to, so had planned on having a fairly light dinner, picking three dishes off the menu for the four of us to split. The menu has many different categories, including appetizers (liver, foul madammas) and entrees as well as more entrees, including gyros and schwarma (I’m assuming that’s the Mediterranean) and we saw a guy getting an enormous platter of pasta, covered in some sort of orange-y sauce and dried herbs (Italian?).

As we were deciding, we were served a delicious, if greasy soup. The main flavoring, as far as I could tell was niter kibe, the Ethiopian spiced butter, but I’m sure it was just similar ingredients. A good way to start the meal.

We all immediately gravitated to the goat, simply described as ‘Somali-style’ with peppers and onions, then M. directed us toward the Kata Kata (chicken with chapatis, as a kind of stew) and Ugali (a corn based starch). We decided to order one of each of those three. Here’s where the mix up started.

“Have you been here before?” the waitress asked. We shook our heads no, and M. proceeded to order our food. On hearing her pronunciation or her choice of dishes, the waitress started “Oh, you have been here?” “Well, no,” M. explained her experience.

Unfortunately with all that explaining, what got lost in translation was our order. Four orders of goat appeared on our table. Four orders which each came with, I’d point out, a plate of salad, of vegetables and of chapati. That’s four plates of each of four dishes, so our table looked ridiculous. Sensing the problem slowly (dishes were delivered one or two at a time) we flagged someone down and explained that we had wanted to share. They removed two of the veggie dishes and two of the salads. We weren’t sure our message was across. We flagged again. I wasn’t around for this full discussion (I was grabbing water) but the woman seemed upset. And never brought us the other two dishes. Oy. However, considering the amount of food brought out for $40 and that we were heading to what turned out to be a hedonist bacchanal filled with free flowing beverages and platters of bone marrow and foie gras floating by, we just rolled with the punches.

But the food? Well the goat was spectacular! That’s where the reward part comes in for all the confusion. The veggies were awful, the salad was shredded iceberg lettuce with a drizzle of some dressing (didn’t try that) and the chapatis tasted like they’d been made longer ago than they should have been. But the goat, that was amazing. We all devoured ours, eating with our chapatis (“In my country, we use the chapati to eat the vegetables,” our waitress scoffed condescendingly when she saw us doing this. Ah, well), and liberally dousing everything with the excellent hot sauce (which I think may have just involved oil and raw garlic). While most of the side dishes were, well, nearly inedible, the goat was good enough that I left rather disappointed that we didn’t get to try the other dishes, and also good enough that we will be returning for sure!

So yes, if you want to know what you’re getting and want to be sure of it, perhaps eating at Karama or any other hole-in-the-wall not used to catering to the most American of customers is not the best idea. However, if you’re willing to pack a sense of adventure and to see what you can find you may just be rewarded with some super-tasty goat!

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One Response

  1. Sounds like quite an adventure. My husband and I have had fun going to random Ethiopian restaurants in Seattle. Definitely the best food was at the one where everyone inside was shocked to see white people come in. Fortunately the woman there was really nice about describing the food and how to eat it. I’d like to try goat so maybe we’ll check out Karama sometime.

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