Asmara appears to be one of Oakland’s best kept secrets. Tucked away in the North Oakland and Temescal district, Asmara offers authentic and delicious Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine in warm and cozy surroundings. Open for dinner every night, and for lunch and dinner on the weekends, Asmara offers you an enjoyable Ethiopian dining experience at very reasonable prices.
Asmara sports a very rustic yet charming decor. The art on the walls suggest the life and times of a bygone Ethiopian era. The tables on the sides of the restaurant are separated by an attractive wicker partition, offering you a cozy sense of privacy. The lighting, the decor and the atmosphere makes Asmara an appropriate destination for a romantic date. However, to enjoy the true Ethiopian dining experience, you are advised to eat the food family style, out of the same platter, without any silverware. You might want to make it date destination after a certain level of familiarity has been established.
Dining in Ethiopia is characterized by sharing food from a common plate. These signify the bonds of loyalty, family, and friendship. The meal is served on a large platter, draped with the crepe-like injera bread. The selection of foods are decoratively arranged around the center dish. Diners simply tear off a piece of injera, and use it to scoop up the into their mouths. It’s a real fun experience but it could get messy.
Ethiopian food is colorful, varied, flavorful and ranges from mildly to fiery spicy. A lot of the dishes are prepared with berebere, a combination of powdered chilies and spices. This spice is used in many dishes, so consult your serving staff when ordering dishes, especially if your heat threshold is a bit on the lower side.
Ethiopians are known for their spicy stews, known as Watts. Asmara features the Doro Watt, a fiery hot chicken stew, as their specialty. The other striking dish is the Ye-beg Alicha; cubes of lamb cooked with curry and spices. This is a milder dish than the fiery watts, and the long cooking and flavorful spices take away the gamey taste of the lamb. Not to be missed is the Gored Gored; tender cubes of tenderloin, served rare in a butter sauce. The dish is hot and spicy, without taking away from the delicate flavors of the butter dip it is served in.
Vegetarians are never at a loss in at Asmara. Ethiopian restaurants are the chosen by most vegetarians in the west because of their varied vegetarian selections. The Ethiopian orthodox christians prescribe Wednesdays and Fridays as fasting days, as well as the entire Lenten season. This has lead to the development of several vegetarian dishes, that are delicious and most satisfying.
The highlight of Asmara’s vegetarian selection is the Shiro; roasted ground peas in a berebere sauce. The vegetarian combination is highly recommended. It offers a taste of three of the most popular dishes, Temtmo/Yemissir Watt (red lentil stew in berebere sauce), Kik Alicha (yellow lentils in a mild sauce) and Yeh-goman Alicha (mustard greens in Asmara’s special blend of spices).
When in Asmara, do not miss out on their home made Tej Wine. This beverage is an Ethiopian tradition made by fermenting honey. This mead like elixir is prepared in house and is better than anything you get in a bottle. Coffee lovers will not be disappointed with Asmara’s coffee. It is rich, dark and very flavorful.
Whether you are an Ethiopian food aficionado, and just looking to discover a new and unique cuisine, Asmara in Oakland is sure to deliver a phenomenal yet authentic dining experience.