The other day I was idly playing with AroundMe to further my quest of never having to go more than 10 minutes from my house to eat a fine meal. Do you know this app? It uses the power of sorcery to discover exactly where you are at any point in time and helps you find nearby points of interest, like restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, hospitals, etc. If you happen to be looking for a restaurant, you can paste AroundMe’s suggestions into your Trip Advisor app for reviews. Which is what I did when I came across Corno d’Africa (The Horn of Africa). The reviews for this Ethiopian (actually Eritrean as we discovered when we got there; given history, I imagine the food is more or less the same) were heavily be-starred and gushing. Hurrah! A highly thought of Eritrean restaurant 10 minutes from my house!
When I was in grad school, there was an Ethiopian restaurant (this was pre-Eritrea) right across the street. We were all super poor and the restaurant, being extremely inexpensive, was our date night place. That was a happy time in my life so I’ve always had a soft spot for the food.
Unsurprisingly, given the historical relationship with Italy, there are a number of Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants in Rome. But they are all on the other side of Rome and, as has been well-documented in this blog, I am super lazy. As a result, I hadn’t indulged my soft spot for ages so I was very excited.
I went last night. Corno d’Africa is a pretty place with a traditional dining room in front, filled with braided goatskin chairs and special injera eating tables (the back room is just regular so be sure to book the front if you go). For those of you who have never tried Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine, let me explain how it works. The national dish of the two countries, injera is a flatbread with a spongy texture and a sourish taste. Traditionally it is made from teff, a tiny iron-rich grain that only grows in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Teff flour is mixed with water and fermented for several days, which is why the sour taste. The injera, which looks like a gigantic pancake, is baked on clay plates over a fire (although probably not in Rome; there are also special injera ovens) . It comes to the table piled with different kinds of stews and salads. You tear off a bit of injera and use it to scoop up the food. The juices from the stews and salads seep into the spongy injera and it’s all lovely and messy. No knives or forks allowed. The injera serves as plate, utensil and food all at once.
Our group included two spicy food lovers, one non spicy food lover and the Upstairs Vegetarian. The menu easily accommodated us all. The waiter first brought us a little amuse-bouche of fried injera with a couple of dipping sauces. I love when they do that!
We started with sambussas — fried dough packages stuffed with lentils, onions, ginger and various spices. Sort of like an Ethiopian samosa.
Next up, the injera, featuring zighini, a hot and spicy meat stew (we had chicken; beef and lamb were also on offer) that includes masses of berbere, which is a mixture of lots of different spices, including a healthy dash of chilies.
We also had zizil tibs: beef sauteed in clarified butter, seasoned with onions, green pepper, fresh rosemary and more berebere. For the the fainter of stomach, there was Yebeg Alicha, a mild lamb stew with onion, garlic, ginger, cardamon and turmeric. And the Upstairs Vegetarian ordered the veggie menu, which included things like cabbage, carrots and potatoes simmered together in sauce, red lentils and split peas.
It was great. The food was delicious and super fresh. The portions were huge. The service was friendly and prompt. It was incredibly inexpensive for Rome – 20 Euros per person, including drinks. AND they do take out.
Corno d’Africa, Via Folco Portinari, 7, Rome, Italy. 06 53273923. Open for dinner every day except Sunday.