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Abay Market, Bailey's Crossroads - Proprietor Yonas Alemayehu's Incredible Raw Kitfo

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Abay Market cannot handle large crowds--it has five, six tables, tops--but if you want to experience real, raw Ethiopian cuisine, this is your place. Read more.

Really enjoyed reading this, and can't wait to check it out. Considering that Bamian and Edy's Chicken are close by you could put together quite the progressive dinner.

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Abay Market cannot handle large crowds--it has five, six tables, tops--but if you want to experience real, raw Ethiopian cuisine, this is your place. Read more.

I had lunch at Abay Market yesterday because I'd been craving meat. As before, there are only about five tables, and the place is a complete, total dive. It is in a long strip of shops and restaurants that I believe is the most dense strip of Ethiopian shops in the DC area, including Little Ethiopia downtown. The signage of some of these places is so vague that it's hard to tell if they're markets, cafes, stores, or a combination of the above. But I think it's safe to say that within a 150-yard-long strip of stores (maybe a two-minute walk down the two side-by-side strip malls), there are a good dozen places serving Ethiopian food.

You walk into Abay, and there's a cash register in front of you, 6-7 different types of injera for sale right next to it (from five different local producers - I counted), and right behind that, a small seating area with about 4-5 cheap tables and chairs. It's about as bare-boned as it gets.

The proprietors, one man (proprietor Yonas Alemayehu) and one woman, were bemused to see me ask for a menu. There was one other table of Ethiopian gentlemen enjoying a soccer match on TV, and I was handed what I guess could be called a "menu," which listed exactly five different meat courses, and then some type of special on the inside of the menu, along with 2-3 pages of aging reviews.

I wanted raw meat, and not much of anything else, and that's precisely what I got. My Kitfo ($16.35 (*)) was translated as "Stake Tatar," finely chopped sirloin with kibe (purified butter) and mitmita (Ethiopian seasoned pepper), and can be served raw, medium, well-done, anyway you want it. After I put my order in, I walked up to the cashier and asked if they had any injera made with teff, and Mr. Alemayehu didn't quite understand me. "You want the dark one?" he asked. "Sure," I said.

Before I left, I perused the injera selection, and they all list teff as the primary ingredient, with "self-rising flour" as the second ingredient - all of them did. I don't know if "self-rising flour" is wheat, or something else. I had reached the limits of my knowledge, and as I type this, I still don't know if my injera was made with 100% teff, or simply with teff as its primary grass. Well, regardless, I got "the dark one" and it was very good.

The kitfo arrived, on a platter of injera, with one extra piece rolled up alongside. I got a subtle reminder from Langano a couple weeks ago not to overload on injera, so on this day I employed a "biting strategy" that involved picking up the kitfo with injera, but then only biting 2/3 of the way down instead of putting the whole thing in my mouth. This way, the same piece of injera can be used several times over, and you can maximize the meat aspect instead of filling up on bread.

And it's a good thing, too, because the amount of sirloin I got was so huge that it was clearly meant for two people. A huge, softball-sized pile of raw sirloin, with just enough kibe to hold it together, offered with a small pile of homemade Ethiopian cheese, and some extra mitmita powder alongside. Other than these two things, it was essentially a gigantic portion of meat - spicy, too.

I really hadn't planned on eating such a large lunch, as it was getting close to 1 PM, but there was no way I was going to waste this. It was so good I couldn't believe it - far and away the best kitfo I've ever eaten. If you've never been here, then no matter how good you think the kitfo you've tried has been, I'm pretty sure this will be better. It was just about perfect, and with my "save the injera" technique, I managed to finish every bite before leaving, stuffed to the gills.

Mr Alemayehu, clearly amused that someone like me had ordered such a thing, asked me if I knew Anthony Bourdain (sigh), and that he'd been into his market. "Yes, I actually just heard this today," I said. But what I didn't know is that he apparently comes back, without cameras, and enjoys the kitfo on his own sometimes when he's in town. And I don't blame him because it's terrific.

(*) I'm assuming the price was $16.35 because the bill I got at the register (which included tax) was the odd amount $17.17. I believe Bailey's Crossroads is in Fairfax County, but not Falls Church City, which means the sales tax is 4% state + 1% county - that would make the kitfo $16.35. Regardless, it was too cheap, and I felt guilty not having any space on the receipt to leave a tip. So I took out what I had - a five-dollar bill - and just told him to keep it. This was surely a pound of meat, freshly prepared, and it was robbery at that price.

It's incredible that Abay Market wasn't listed as Italic in the Dining Guide, but rest assured it is now. I cannot believe that nobody here wrote me over these past few years and didn't point out this obvious mistake - would you please, please, please look through restaurants in your neighborhoods, and let me know if you see any egregious mistakes? I really try to make this as accurate as possible. Yes, some things are debatable, but this is a no-brainer. The only reason I didn't raise it even higher in the Bailey's Crossroads section is because it's not really a full restaurant. Then again, my standard for ranking is very simple: "Where would I eat, if someone else was buying the meal?" Is there really anywhere in Bailey's Crossroads I'd rather enjoy on someone else's dime? Maybe Bamian because it's more of a "complete" restaurant, but not much else. I really appreciate it whenever someone writes me and lets me know when they see something obviously wrong such as this.

NB - Tim Carman's article is every bit as relevant as it was 5.5 years ago, and a pleasure to read - especially after you've been here. I didn't read the article until this afternoon, and don't remember seeing Tere Sega on the menu, but rest assured, I'm going to be making a return trip in the near future in order to seek this dish out.

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Go. Get the kitfo. There is a reason Bourdain goes whenever he is in DC. It's at the top of my top three in the area. I've been grazing through it all day and have eaten less than half. Let me know if you want some because there is plenty.

I spoke with the owner and he told me he is trying to expand and serve vegetarian kosher Ethiopian food. It will be interesting to see if the restaurant is certified kosher given the requirements. It's hard to believe that there is kosher certified injera in the area. He also said that in July the Washingtonian is going to have an article about him but didn't elaborate on what the story is about. Need to go check the mailbox for my issue.

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It's tough to add more about a place whose menu is so small and permanent, so I'll add a picture. This is the tere sega and kitfo, and it was delicious. Parking was not bad on a Tuesday evening, and the place was empty except for one other table. The service couldn't have been nicer or more gracious. When we ordered the tere sega, we did have to go through a once-over from the owner who just wanted to make sure we knew what we were getting into. I'll be back.


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Abay is the place where Tony Bourdain went with Tim Carman and didn't like the tere saga (kurt). He mimed just biting into the big hunk of raw steak, which is not how you eat it, of course (it is sliced and dipped into sauces). Nevertheless, the image has been enough to deter my wife from being willing to eat here, so I've never actually been to Abay Market to eat (but have bought berbere here).

But I wanted to share what seems to me very useful information from a post on Yelp -- according to the poster (Roderick L of DC), the English menu at Abay is not the full menu. There is a second menu, only in Amharic, on each table, which is about the size of a business card. Roderick took the trouble to translate the full menu:

(Original Amharic Text/Transliteration/Best guess what it is): 

  Abay leyu quret (special raw meat)
 Abay dulet (tripe and other bits)
 Abay kitfo (raw ground beef)
 Gored gored (raw chunks of beef- difference from tere sega is unknown)
 Yebeg tibs (lamb)
  Yebere shnt tibs (beef ribeye)
 Yebeg alicha (lamb yellowish stew)
  Yebere choma tibs (fatty beef)
 Yequanta tibs (dried beef/jerky)
 Yequanta firfir (dried beef with injera bits)
 Melasena sember (tripe and tongue)
 Ayibe kitfo (cheese kitfo?)

Apparently, the dulet, yequanta tibs, yequanta firfir, and melasena sember are missing from the English menu. 

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