As a teacher in Tucson, I don’t often have the money to go out to eat. This usually works out to my advantage; I cook more at home, which not only saves cash but also makes me much less likely to break my diet. Once in a while, though, it’s nice to splurge, and what better reason than my boyfriend Ian’s birthday?
When I told him I would get him dinner wherever he wanted for his birthday, I expected to have a fancy meal in north Tucson. But Ian pleasantly surprised both my appetite and my pocketbook by choosing Zemam’s for his birthday feast!
Zemam’s is a tiny Ethiopian restaurant tucked in between Tucson and Country Club on Broadway. The building itself was probably a house at some point– inside, the restaurant is made up of tiny “rooms” without doors, and the walls are plastered with Ethiopian art. I love the homey feel of the interior. If you couldn’t tell, another perk is that it’s family owned and operated, so you get to eat delicious food and support a local business at the same time!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, this is what it looks like:
It’s served family style on a large piece of injera, a soft spongy bread made from teff. There are no utensils here– the pile of injera is what you use to pick up the deliciously cooked piles of food on the plate. Since I knew we were going in advance, I requested injera made from 100% teff. It’s similar to the difference between whole wheat and white bread– you can see some of its spongey white counterpart in the upper right corner of the photo (Ian prefers it).
While Zemam’s is a vegetarian’s heaven, Ian and I ended up getting mostly meat. Starting with the obviously veggie bottom dish, the plate has: spinach wat with cottage cheese, doro berebere (a spicy chicken dish), yebeg wat (a spicy lamb dish), and doro wat (a mild chicken dish). The meat is tender and cooked to perfection, but the spinach is probably my favorite dish overall. I got the sampler platter, but Ian ordered just the lamb (which he lists on his top ten foods!), so you’ll notice the portion of it is huge. There are two vegetable freebie sides they throw in, one of which is a veggie medley and the other is some sort of bean or pea. Honestly, if you get it at Zemam’s, it’s going to taste good. As long as no one orders beef I just indiscriminately eat everything!
One thing to keep in mind about Zemam’s is that it’s BYOB. Since it was a special occasion, we brought along a bottle of red wine (that Ian mostly drank). I didn’t get Ethiopian tea this time, but I recommend it– and I normally hate tea!
By the time we were finished, I was STUFFED. We could probably both be full from one entrée, but where’s the fun in that? The whole feast (including a corking fee for the wine) only came to $30.00. But the best part?