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Nafkot Ethiopian Restaurant continues the legacy of the longstanding Abyssinia in Mission Valley.
Zenebe Wolde always dreamed of opening a restaurant. When he drove a taxi years ago and people asked where he was from, he told them Ethiopia. The next topic of discussion to come up was always Ethiopian cuisine, and how different and delicious it is.
“My wife already did catering within the Ethiopian community and people in our community encouraged us to open a restaurant,” says Wolde of Nafkot Ethiopian Restaurant. Nafkot opened in October and took over the space of Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant in the Mission Valley shopping center after the longstanding restaurant’s owners decided to get out of the business. The space has undergone a complete remodel and is decorated with African pottery and artwork and a safari mural covering one wall.
“We had been saying for years that it wasn’t the right time to open because Raleigh wasn’t ready for cultural food,” Wolde continues. “But in the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of international restaurants open up.”
Traditional and innovative dishes comprise the menu, accompanied by injera bread, made from gluten-free teff, and Ethiopian drinks including coffee and two imported beers. Meat dishes range from tender chopped prime beef to chicken sautéed with rosemary, onion and green peppers. The extensive vegetarian menu, which ranges from lentil and chickpea to steamed vegetable dishes, is also completely vegan to comply with religious fasting days when nothing from an animal is eaten. The relaxed atmosphere and cultural touches create a sense of warmth and welcome to visitors, whether they’re familiar or unacquainted with the cuisine.
“You have to be comfortable eating with your hands,” says Raleigh resident Memory Lynh Pham of Nafkot. “I had friends who had never experienced Ethiopian [cuisine], so I had to guide them through using your hands.”
Pham, who moved to Raleigh in 2008 from San Jose, spent five years looking for good Ethiopian food after her favorite restaurant, Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill, closed. When she found Nafkot, Pham knew she was in luck.
“Any good Ethiopian restaurant knows you want some more injera, the unleavened bread,” says Pham. “A good place will give it to you, no questions. Nafkot is like this. I don’t know another Ethiopian restaurant in this area that is that welcoming and open.”
A welcoming and open atmosphere is what Wolde strives to create. From a coffee ceremony to communal eating, Nafkot offers a different culinary experience from what we typically experience in the United States.
“It’s not only the food, it’s the fun of people coming together and eating with their hands,” says Wolde. “If you go out to dinner as a family of four or five, each person gets an individual plate and an individual dining experience. Ethiopian restaurants allow you to eat together. Even if you order different food, we’re going to bring it to you on one big plate so you can share it.”
Pham says she hopes more people in the Triangle discover Nafkot and find the same love for Ethiopian cuisine that she has cultivated.
“They made me feel at home because they understood I loved the food,” says Pham. “If you’re open, they welcome your curiosity with open arms. And it’s the best food you’ve had.”
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