That Minnesota has a large Somali population is well known. Less well known is the fact that there are immigrants here from a number of other African nations as well—as per this article, in 2015 Minnesota had the 9th largest African population in the US and experts believe the number of immigrants—taking foreign and US born populations together—may be twice the reported number . Of this population the Twin Cities metro area was home to almost 25,000 Ethiopians in 2015—a dramatic rise since 2000 when the population was just above 6000. This is reflected in a sizable number of Ethiopian restaurants, many of which—and some would say, the best of which—can be found on or off University Avenue in St. Paul. The University/Snelling area in particular—a key node of “Little Africa”—has a number of Ethiopian businesses. Of these businesses, Fasika is one of the most iconic. After our visit to the Little Africa festival in August we were inspired to eat more Ethiopian food and Fasika seemed like the best place to renew the acquaintance.
When I first encountered Ethiopian food in Los Angeles as a graduate student in the early 1990s, I liked it but found what I experienced to be in a sort of uncanny valley in relation to Indian food: that is to say, the things I ate were quite similar to Indian without exactly being it. Since then I’d go to Ethiopian restaurants if someone I was dining with really wanted to but seeking out Ethiopian restaurants on my, and later, our own was not a high priority. But the chance encounter with a good doro wot at the Little Africa festival made us rethink that and we ended up going to Fasika for lunch a few times in late August after trips with the kids to the Science Museum and the Minnesota History Center. And last weekend a group of friends joined me for a big lunch there (more or less the same group that ate with us at Nawal back in January). Herewith a brief recap of things eaten at all those meals (leaving out dishes that were repeats):
They have a number of traditional raw beef dishes on the menu—they’re listed as “rare” but they’re raw (you can get them done medium or well, if you prefer). Of these we’ve had two iterations of the kitfo. I’m a sucker for tartare and the spicy version as represented by kitfo is right in my wheelhouse. We liked both the regular kitfo (seasoned with mitmita—a sort of Ethiopian garam masala—and warmed with quite a bit of kibe—a sort of spiced Ethiopian ghee) and the kitfo dulet (which adds chopped onions and green peppers). If you held a gun to my head I might recommend the kitfo dulet over the regular. Both are served over injera with cottage cheese and a green salad.
Pardon the Indo-centrism but wots/wats are for all effective purposes indistinguishable from north Indian homestyle curries. I’m not saying that the ingredients are identical but I am saying that if you served any of Fasika’s key wots or alicha wots (available with beef or lamb) or the doro wot to a north Indian they would not think it to be something foreign. Indeed, on a couple of our visits there were Indian families eating there. Whether you get beef or lamb, alicha wots are milder and key wots are more robust and spicy; all are good. Better still is the chicken/doro wot which comes with a hard boiled egg on top. All are served on injera with a nice green salad (you can also ask for rice in place of the injera).
Other Meaty Things:
The lamb tibs—griddle-cooked cubes of marinated lamb—also come on injera and present a nice rosemary kick. I assume—though I am probably wrong—that the rosemary thing is an Italian connection. The qunta firfir features dried beef and torn up bits of injera mixed with a berbere-flavoured stew (berbere is Ethiopian red chilli powder).
I would recommend the gomen (braised collard greens) and the fosolia (a dry curry of green beans and carrots). The beans in the latter may have originated in a can (as my friends with experience of American high school cafetarias insisted) but the flavour of the dish was excellent. Also good, and absolutely indistinguishable from an Indian dal, was the kik alicha wot.
The boys say their chicken tenders, and the metric tonne of fries they come with, are very good. They also enjoy their fried catfish filets.
See below for pictures and scroll down for thoughts on service, price/value etc.
Portions are large (and fairly unwieldy if everyone orders their own thing) and prices are very reasonable: you can expect to get out between $15-18/head for just food, and you’ll probably take some food home. Service is friendly and they’re happy to explain what everything is if you ask. The atmosphere is very pleasant and if you go for a weekday lunch you’ll likely see a good cross-section of the neighbourhood there. I’m not sure what it’s like at dinner as we’ve only been for lunch.
In sum, I would recommend Fasika highly to anyone looking for a good Ethiopian meal or just a good meal. After a number of meals there in the last month, however, my next Ethiopian stop will be a place further down on University recommended by long-time blog commenter, “Joe and Cathy”: Demera. Probably not for a month or so though. Coming before then: the last of my Scotland food reports and the remaining London reports.