Harar gives diners taste of Ethiopia

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Harar gives diners taste of Ethiopia

Rana Tabrizi

Harar Restaurant, located on El Cajon Boulevard, serves up traditional Ethiopian cuisine. Above, a platter of stews including lentils, collard greens and lamb served atop injera bread.

Rana Tabrizi, Staff Writer

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At first glance, passersby may mistake Harar Ethiopian Restaurant for a quaint home. Situated on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego, the restaurant sets itself apart from every surrounding establishment; its audacious neon-green exterior and charming porch make for an exceptionally unique aesthetic.

Upon entering the restaurant, guests are warmly greeted by the establishment’s owner, Shewit. With an accessible but intimate seating arrangement, guests are welcome to dine either indoors or in the covered patio located in the rear of the restaurant.

Harar’s most notable feature, however, lies in the experience of enjoying its food in a welcoming atmosphere. Rare is it to find an owner who serves her guests with such humility and joy. Shewit gladly recommends options for individuals who are unfamiliar with the menu and serves the guests herself.

This camaraderie is reinforced by the customs surrounding Ethiopian cuisine itself. When ordering any of the platter options at Harar, guests receive a portion of multiple items on the menu, arranged in one large dish to be shared. Platters include a variety of stews served atop injera bread, a spongy substance made from a nutritious grain, teff. Harar’s menu provides descriptions of many of the common elements of Ethiopian food, should guests be unfamiliar with them.

On one such occasion of dining at Harar, Shewit offered to educate diners on how to eat Ethiopian food. She returned with washed hands, tore off a piece of injera, and began gliding her fingers quickly across the platter, pausing for brief moments to collect portions of stew within her grasp. The result: a palm-sized assortment of stews neatly held together. Shewit fed each member of the group with her own hands, an intimate act received with gratitude by her guests.

Upon learning that one vegetarian guest was sharing the platter with carnivorous friends, Shewit inquired about her favorite dish and returned with an additional helping to be poured onto the platter. This hearty lentil dish is just one of many vegetarian options Harar offers; the menu is rich with ingredients such as eggplant, collard green and potato, all laden with flavor.

Shewit’s intention to use more Ethiopian spices in Harar’s dishes contributes to this depth of flavor. She ships spices from Ethiopia monthly to be used in menu items, and offers a buffet on Fridays to those who prefer to choose their own variety of dishes.

Harar is re-shaping the dining experience into one that fosters fellowship. To dine at Harar Ethiopian Restaurant is much more than the consumption of a meal; it is the bonding of people brought together through an exchange of culture, a passion for food, and an unrestrained expression of companionship.

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