Growing in popularity it seems, Ethiopian cuisine is now available in about 20 Northern Virginia restaurants. That reflects that locals are discovering this seemingly exotic and very non-Western style of cooking: each entrée comes with a flat, grayish bread called injera, and pieces of that are used to scoop up the meal—assuming one eats like a native. (Note: Be sure to order a side of injera, even if you only tear off pieces to eat…it is slightly tart and delicious.)
For a tempting meal, patrons should head to Centreville, and drive into a shopping center to find Manna Bistro & Bakery. Management serves up truly authentic Ethioipain food, since the staff is Ethiopian. But they also serve a typical Western-style breakfast of eggs, eggs with cheese, eggs on bread, bagels with cream cheese, waffles, and surprisingly, tacos.
In fact, the restaurant seems to have a steady flow of Latinos who look for their native cuisine. That part of their menu includes an extensive collection of offerings, such as pupusas, carne asada, tamales, tostadas, fajitas, and quesadillas. Surely the cook turns out tasty Latino fare, but if you are in the mood for authentic Ethiopian, scroll down the menu.
Starters include sambusas (fried dough triangles stuffed with lentils and veggies), sinig (jalapeño stuffed with cooked tomato and onion), and qategna (lightly toasted Ethiopian injera bread basted with butter and berbere).
While these are tempting, save your appetite for one of the vegetarian- or meat/poultry/seafood-based entrées. Perhaps the most well-known dish is called doro wat, usually a drumstick, breast, or thigh simmered in berbere sauce. That is delicious but step up to other choices too. For example lamb lovers should select one of their two options, the begue tibs (cubed lamb sautéed with onion, jalapeños and green pepper or the outstanding (but not always available) lamb keay, or diced lamb cooked in a slightly spicy tomato-based sauce.
Seafood options include sautéed shrimp with lemon juice, onion, and jalapeño pepper, a whole fried fish, fried whiting filets, or ground fish cakes. Beef is also prepared in numerous ways, including steak tartare kitfo, which is freshly minced lean beef seasoned with chili powder, and may be served raw or lightly cooked.
But vegetarians also have plenty of options: miser watt (red lentils simmered in berbere sauce), gomen (cooked collard greens stirred with onions and garlic), defin mier alcha watt (green lentils simmered with garlic, onions, and turmeric) and other vegetable or other legume-based dishes.
In the end, consider ordering a cup of their dazzling chai latte with a swirl of whipped cream on top and one of their French desserts, including a rum-soaked tiramisu.
Manna Bistro & Bakery, 1415x Centreville Square, Centreville. 703-534-6990. Hours: Mon.- Sat., 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 8:30 p.m. www.mannabistro.com