Monday, August 3, 2015

Tanzania is in Africa

We were the only diners at Safari DC on Sunday, which meant that three toddlers were able to wreak a small amount of havoc in the dining room without disturbing anyone. While this worked to our advantage, I can't say why as the food was quite good. There are several African (mostly Ethiopian) restaurants in the area, so that may explain it. Or maybe Sunday lunch isn't when most Petworth residents crave ugali or injera? In any case, the menu does have a lot of Ethiopian options (which most of my party ordered -- very good) and both the waitress and cook were Ethiopian on Sunday (although the waitress initially told us that while she is Ethiopian, she wasn't sure where the cook was from - Africa? Maybe Kenya. Not sure if she considers Ethiopia not African or what to make of this.) There are also plenty of Tanzanian options (possibly Kenyan??? though some dishes specifically mentioned Tanzanian spices). I stuck to the program and ordered what I hope is something that might be served in Tanzania: sautéed goat with ugali and cooked greens. The goat, while a little fatty, was really tender and flavorful. The greens were also quite good, though the ugali was pretty unremarkable. Ugali is basically African polenta, but it's quite refined and there's not a lot going on in terms of flavor (the toddler loved it). My goat wasn't very saucy and the ugali was plentiful. I wasn't really expecting to love it -- I ordered it because I'd read it's one of Tanzania's national dishes -- and I didn't. There might be better Ethiopian food in the DC area (though Safari's was very good), but I don't think you'll find better (or worse for that matter) Tanzanian dishes anywhere around here.

4306 Georgia Avenue, NW (Petworth)

Tajikistan: Who Knew? or Suburban Intrigue

I will admit that not much came to mind when I initially thought of Tajik cuisine. Hunks of meat? Russian mayonnaisey salads? The food they serve at the Uzbek place I like? I was excited to find two Tajik options in the DC area. For better or worse, Samovar a Russian-seeming restaurant with Tajik owners was scheduled to open in Rockville in July, but doesn't seem to have actually managed to open yet. Luckily, Tajik-Tartar Food was able to fulfill our Tajik dreams. I was hesitant at first because nothing really jumped out at me on the menu, which seemed very Russian (for a good reason, I know) and too wintery for July. A little google research peaked my interest in Tajikistan's national dish, qurotub - a dish of stale bread, a yogurt-type sauce, sautéed onions, and vegetables and/or lamb. I am a sucker for all things involving stale bread and yogurt, so I emailed to ask if they might be able to make qurotub even though it isn't listed on their menu (it should be!). "Of course," they replied. A few emails back and forth and off I went to Vienna (the one in Virginia) to pick up a qurotub dinner (note: they will deliver for a fee).

The transaction was quite mysterious (in a totally safe, suburban kind of way) -- I waited in front of an apartment building, texting with a nameless Tajik someone who said that Svetlana would be down soon with my qurotub, but she didn't speak much English so I was just to hand over the cash (Tajik-Tartar Foods has a $50 minimun). Svetlana, a grandmotherly type appeared a few minutes later with a little girl and a shopping bag containing my dinner. We made the transaction, exchanged a few simple pleasantries, and I was off. My nameless Tajik contact texted me instructions on how to assemble the dish (less it get too soggy in transit): I heated the bread (or fatir, a flatbread layered (traditionally) with lamb fat giving it a very nice, flaky quality (rustic croissant is a stretch, but...  which was clearly homemade) and the yogurt sauce (traditionally made from qurut, a dried salted yogurt, but here I think the sauce was made from fresh yogurt (a decent substitute from what I understand)). I followed the instructions on my phone, tearing the warm bread with my hands, not cutting it with a knife! Then, layered the bread with sautéed onions, sauce, and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, and dill. Qurotub is traditionally served in a communal bowl (Tajik-Tartar Foods wanted to plate mine on "national wooden Tajik plate," which would have surely added to the experience, but I didn't really want to drive back to Vienna to return it) and eaten with one's hands (we are heathens and used forks). Despite our improper serving vessel and utensils, this was a seriously delicious dish that managed to scoot Tajikistan onto the long list of countries I'd like to visit. The fatir has real heft and flavor (lamb fat!?), that made a dish built around stale bread feel like a celebratory meal. (It was also delicious (and not at all soggy the way pita would be) in my lunch the next day.