Aside from Q by Peter Chang, which is great, I haven’t had a lot of dining favorites in Bethesda. Recently however, I discovered a new spot that has me coming back to the neighborhood again and again: Delina Eritrean Urban Kitchen.
Owned by Abraham and Martha Melles, a warm and friendly Eritrean couple who named the restaurant after their 10-year-old daughter, Delina, Eritrean Urban Kitchen serves food from the couple’s native Eritrea. Eritrean food is very similar to the cuisine of Ethiopia, according to Martha, who also serves as the Executive Chef of the restaurant. She has lived in both Eritrea and neighboring Ethiopia and she describes the cuisine of the two countries to be “largely the same, with injera served at most most meals, and similar spices like berbere, cumin, and and fenugeek used in abundance in the majority of dishes.” From my perspective, I agree with her that the two cuisines are largely twinning, both in flavor and presentation; the main difference that I can discern is that Eritrean food is just a bit spicier.
I always start any Ethiopian meal with sambusa, and I recommend this for Eritrean dining as well. Similar to Indian samosas, these fried triangle pastries are stuffed with lentils, making for a crispy, savory appetizer that wets your appetite for the deliciousness that is about to come. At Delina, the sambusa come with a half lemon that I highly encourage you to use; the citrus adds a great bright, tart note to the sambusa. Next, choose half a dozen or so dishes to share with your dining partner. All items are priced at $4 – $5, and they come in small silver bowls, which are then scooped onto a huge piece of injera, which is a spongy flatbread eaten with most meals in Ethiopian and Eritera.
My favorite dishes include the Shiro, a creamy, luscious dish made with pureed roasted chickpeas that are simmered for hours with garlic and tomatoes and red peppers and onions, is nutty and velvety. Alicha, a lend of cabbage, carrots, potatoes and green beans is fragrant, warm and highlighted by the flavors of garlic and ginger. Red lentils, called tim timo, are cooked in a berbere spice which is made with chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, radhuni, and nigella. The variety of vegetables used in the dishes is impressive – beets cooked with jalapenos and vinegar, tomatoes tossed with onions and garlic, and mushrooms smothered in the chefs “special sauce.” The flavors are very similar to Ethiopian cuisine, but sharper, more pronounced and with added heat from jalapeños and chili powder.
At the end of the meal, take advantage of the Eritrean coffee service, where Eritrean coffee beans are roasted, ground and then brewed right before you. The scent is intoxicating and the taste of the coffee is divine – deep, rich, chocolatey and nutty.
I love that D.C. is finally expanding its palate for ethnic food. We now have Puerto Rican food in Georgetown, West African food in Takoma Park and Eritrean food in Bethesda. Next time you think of getting Ethiopian food, I would check out Delina instead. It’s somewhat familiar, somewhat new and the best reason to visit Bethesda.