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Wellcome to Buna Ethiopian Restaurant, upon stepping through the doors of Buna Ethiopian Restaurant & Market, an array of Ethiopian handicrafts of drums, masks and jewelry graze one wall, while the other displays biscotti, tubs of different spices, incense accoutrements, lentils, tea and coffee (green beans or the roasted varieties). Buna (or Bunna) is coffee in Ethiopian. Further along towards the kitchen the space opens to the parlor/restaurant. This area has a colorful display of artwork on the wall, a variety of which, like the photographs are from local artists. Amidst the ambiance of colors and textures Ethiopian music or sometimes the soccer game fills the air and there’s the distinct home cooking stewed in warming spices of turmeric, cumin, coriander and the ever effervescent aromatic coffee. The buzz is Buna Ethiopian Restaurant & Market is sizzlin’ with delicious artisanal cooking and brewing fresh coffee from Ethiopia – all this is wrapped in the tradition of music and culture of a continent halfway across the world, yet embedded in the heart of its owners and operators Eyob and Helena, while Manteghosh (Helena’s mother) oversees and applies her recipes and methods in the food preparation.
Eyob and Helena met when she joined to work a family owned restaurant that Eyob was helping his uncle manage. Eyob’s long history of experience and knowledge in restaurant management and Helena’s culinary talent, honed in her mother’s traditional recipes and methods, was a chemistry bound to spark a dream of starting their own establishment. Buna Ethiopian Restaurant & Market opened for business in 2011. The restaurant is located where a former long-time drapery store sat. The owner/operator of the store was selling her business so she could retire, and Eyob and Helena seized the opportunity to buy it as it was a rare opportunity to have a perfect spot in the popular “Little Ethiopia” community. The configuration of Buna Ethiopian Restaurant & Market is longer than wider, unlike other restaurants in the area. Eyob and Helena designed their restaurant-market to invite guests to explore cultural gifts (spices, incense, shea butter, Ethiopian CDs, clothing and jewelry), then walk into the restaurant and enjoy their meal prepared in the open kitchen at the back. It’s natural to see the hosts preparing meals for sit in diners or to-go and/or delivery orders. Eyob & Helena’s restaurant has come into its own, recognized as a place to gather and eat wonderful award-winning authentic Ethiopian cooking and genuine warm hospitality.
In the mornings, Helena prepares for the day starting with burning frankincense and myrrh and its cleansing smoke blesses the hearth. Before the doors open for business, batches of handmade warm injera are stacked and bagged; ready for sale and use at the restaurant. The recipes were created by Helena. There are two varieties: 100% teffe or a melange of teffe and barley. The variety of we’ts (stews) are chicken, beef and lamb. Ethiopia has historically hosted a variety of cultures (Orthodox Christian, Jewish and Muslim) which abstains from eating pork therefore it is not part of the menu. The we’ts are Manteghosh’s specialty, and this dish is known as Ethiopia’s cultural pride. The spicy-heat meter of we’t is determined by the proportion of berere used therefore let them know your preference for hot or mild.
Other offerings to tantalize the tastebuds on the Buna Ethiopian Restaurant & Market menu is fish, served oven-baked or broiled. The fish come whole served with the vegetarian platter. The vegetarian options are all 100% vegan: lentils (yellow or split green), collard greens, cabbage, shiro (chickpea flour) and tomato salad. The vegetarian platter in itself is a visual teaser, now imagine the scent and taste: simple, complex and satisfying in every mouthful the way home cooking should be. The fermented injera blended with the complex flavors of the we’t and/or fish and vegetarian dishes is a unique dining experience that distinguishes Ethiopian cooking done well as memorable. Save room for dessert – fresh and coffee infused flavored tiramisu. This is another one of Helena’s specialty which closes an inspiring and satisfying meal. Enjoy it with coffee or spiced Ethiopian tea. As noted by author D.J. Mesfin (of “Exotic Ethiopian Cooking”):
Ethiopian food is like the Ethiopians themselves: spicy, subtle, piquant and most of all, unforgettable.