At Walia in San Jose, our order was on its way. The server lowered a solitary platter onto our table with a hazel colored sheet of injera, or Ethiopian bread, stretching towards the edges. He took his time to ladle all of our dishes onto this cushiony surface, activating a series of radiant aromas. When he was done we allowed our eyes to feast on this colorful palette as the warm steam hit our noses.
In Ethiopian food, the injera is both the plate and the utensil. We tore off pieces of pillowy bread and scooped up the piping hot vegetable and meat stews, called ‘Wot’ or ‘Wat.’ The pores in the bread made it easy to scoop, while flavor-wise it doled out its own crisp tanginess. Though injera is traditionally sourdough, Walia’s rendition was sourer than I’ve tried before.
The vegetable combination ($14.95) was a smorgasbord of most of the vegetarian items on the menu. A standout was the Alcha Wot, made of turmeric split peas. A beautiful golden color, it had a meaty richness and a texture that thickened as it cooled. Miser, a puree of spicy red lentils, was good, but I ordered “medium” spiciness and it came out quite tame.
I was surprised by the Atkilt Wot, which looked like the parboiled vegetables often found in Korean Banchan at the beginning of the meal. By contrast, these vegetables were warm and sweet. It was very good and had a more novel quality than the others.
The Doro Wot ($10.50) is often considered the national dish of Ethiopia. No major holiday is complete without this spicy chicken stew, which also features whole, hardboiled eggs. There are two foundation blocks of Doro Wot: seasoned butter, called niter kibbeh, and berbere, the Ethiopian spice mixture consisting of chile peppers, garlic and more. At Walia, there was a deep rich flavor and a silky quality to the sauce. Although it was good, I did miss the spicy assault that is characteristic of Doro Wot. Make sure to order it “spicy” in order to experience the true, timely waves of spice in this dish. The Lega Tibs ($12) were also ordered—chunks of beef rubbed with Ethiopian seasonings and stir fried. Although it added a beef component to the menagerie, the meat was a little tough for my liking.
When we were done, the injera “tablecloth” was soaked with the juices of our different stews. For future reference, I’ll know not to go crazy on the injera in the beginning so I can have more room for this closing part of the meal.
Walia also serves up an Ethiopian breakfast and offers other specialties, from Ethiopian coffee ($3) to Ambo mineral water ($3.50), which is naturally sparkling water derived from volcanic rock in Ambo, Ethiopia.
2208 Business Circle, San Jose 408.645.5001
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