Kitfo makes tasty Buffalo-Ethiopian hybrid sandwich

Kitfo, a dish of minced beef flavored with spices and clarified butter, is hugely popular in Ethiopia, where it’s often presented as the centerpiece of large meals.

When Zelalem Gemmeda started serving her Ethiopian dishes from a restaurant stall called, inside the West Side Bazaar she had a problem.

How could she sell kitfo to Buffalonians, who wouldn’t necessarily want to sit down for the lengthy traditional meals, especially in the middle of the day?

Thus the kitfo sandwich was born. It’s minced beef that’s been marinated with spices, including chile and cardamom, then drenched in clarified butter that’s been simmered with more spices. The meat goes onto a sub roll, where it’s topped with fresh house-made cheese.

Call it an Ethiopian beef-and-cheese sub, if it makes you feel better, just don’t miss trying this true example of Buffalo-Ethiopian crossover cuisine. “In Ethiopia, we don’t eat sandwiches,” Gemmeda said. They don’t eat bread, either. “We eat kitfo with injera,” the characteristic sourdough pancake of Ethiopian cuisine. “I am creating this for other people who don’t want to eat big meals.”

Ethiopians, who love kitfo, usually eat it raw. At Gemmeda’s stand, you can ask for it raw, half-cooked (“leb-leb”) or fully cooked. She minces her own beef from cuts of bottom round, to ensure its freshness.

It’s delicious all three ways, to my Western palate. The standard kitfo isn’t spicy hot, though it has a lot of flavor. The sandwich goes for $5.99.

Gemmeda is from Harar, Ethiopia, and was resettled to Buffalo nine years ago by federal officials after 12 years as a refugee in Yemen. In Sana’a, Yemen’s capitol, she ran a much bigger restaurant, not the stands that the West Side Bazaar’s international cooking squad uses to serve their customers. “My restaurant was as big as this building,” she said.

She became a U.S. citizen four years ago, and started selling food at the Bazaar two years ago. For the time being, Gemmeda isn’t looking to move out and find a restaurant of her own. “I like being here. The WEDI people are very supportive,” she said, referring to the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, a non-profit that supports immigrants and other West Side residents looking to start businesses.

With the group’s support, Gemmeda said, she has been able to cook for people again, which she finds satisfying. “I enjoy being with people, and people love my food also,” she said. “I like feeding people.”

Info: Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine, inside the West Side Bazaar, 25 Grant St.


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