The Biz Beat: A must try Ethiopian restaurant in San Jose
Walia Ethiopian Cuisine co-owners Ephrim Yosef and Aster Teklemichael. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Ethiopian food is one of the oldest cuisines in the world, and one of the most communal dining experiences as well. For the last 11 years, the owners of Walia Ethiopian Cuisine in San Jose have shared their culture with customers who come from all over the Bay Area to dip their injera bread into shared platters piled with rich and flavorful dishes.

    “It is very unique and different,” said co-owner Ephrem Yosef. “All of our food is prepared with passion, joy and care—and sharing it helps to bring people together. It is just love on a plate.”

    Yosef’s parents, Girma Bekele and Aster Teklemichael, opened Walia in 2011. Teklemichael is responsible for the recipes, and she often spends time in the kitchen lending a hand.

    “My mother wanted to start her own business,” Yosef told San José Spotlight. “Every time she would have guests over, her food was so good they would tell her she should open her own restaurant.”

    One of the staples of Ethiopian cuisine is injera, a type of sourdough pancake roughly 14 inches in diameter and made from teff, a ground flour that comes from bunchgrass grain.

    “We mix it with water and let it ferment for two or three days to make a batter,” Yosef said. “It is very healthy, high in protein, very low in carbs, very high in iron.”

    The batter is cooked on a round griddle, much like a crepe. But rather than flipping the injera over, the griddle is covered and left to steam, making the bottom side smooth and the top side filled with small bubbles.

    Traditional dinners are served family-style on a platter, with mounds of stews and side dishes arranged on top of the injera. Rolled slices of injera are served with the meal and are used to gather up bites of the various dishes by hand. Ethiopians have a tradition called “gursha,” where friends and family members place bites of food wrapped in injera in the mouths of each other as a gesture of affection.

    “It is a sign of endearment,” Yosef said. “You are giving your bites away instead of taking for yourself. ”

    Anyone familiar with Indian food will find the dishes at Walia easily approachable. For example, Walia’s alicha kik, yellow peas with caramelized onions, turmeric, garlic and ginger, is similar to yellow split pea dal. Some dishes are served with a sweet Ethiopian cheese which helps take some of the heat off the spicer items, much the same function that raita fills.


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    ♬ original sound – San José Spotlight

    The main seasoning profiles come from niter kibbeh, an herbed clarified butter similar to ghee, and berbere, a spice mix that includes chili peppers, coriander, garlic, ginger and Ethiopian holy basil seeds. It’s similar to garam masala. The heat level is similar to Indian food, but can be adjusted for taste.

    “Our food comes down to really good injera, really good butter and really good spices,” Yosef said. “I like to call it the three pillars of Ethiopian cooking. It is very foundational and transports Ethiopian food into a different dimension, especially with the meat dishes.”

    Another flavor profile comes from the injera itself, which has a distinct sour lemon taste that is daunting on its own but nicely enhances the dishes on the platter. Combining two or three dishes into a single bite lets the flavors mingle and platters can be made to order with any of the dishes.

    Ethiopian platter at Walia. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    The Lamb Juicy Tibs, with cubed lamb, onions, garlic, tomatoes, ginger, berbere, seasoned butter and jalapenos, pairs well with the medium spiced Misir, tender red lentils cooked with caramelized onions. The Ingudai Tibs, made with cremini mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, is a perfect match for the Atkilt, made with spiced cabbage, carrots and potatoes.

    The dark red Kewty Doro, a fragrant stew made with cubed chicken and seasoned with berbere, is a modern take on Doro Wat, a popular dish served at feasts and on holidays. This is customer Martha Yassin’s favorite. She has been coming to Walia since it opened.

    “This is very authentic Ethiopian food and really displays our culture,” she told San José Spotlight. “The flavors and the ingredients are always on point, and if I was going to take someone out to dine, this is where I’ll bring them.”

    As a perfect accompaniment to the food, Walia carries Ethiopian beers, including St. George, a European-style pale lager that has been brewed in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, for more than 100 years. However, the must-try is tej, a honey wine that is recognized as the oldest alcoholic beverage on record.

    Zen Sinr and Martha Yassin. Photo by Robert Eliason.
    Customer Martha Yassin, right, has been coming to the restaurant since it opened and invites her friends like Zen Sinr to join her. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Getting the chance to share the foods and traditions of his native country, Yosef said, is the greatest reward he gets from the restaurant.

    “I am proud to have had the opportunity to showcase our culture for so many people,” he said. “We have seen great growth and demand for our food, and we are grateful for the support we have gotten from the community over the years.”

    Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].

    Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected].

    Walia Ethiopian Cuisine

    Located at 2208 Business Cir, San Jose, CA 95128

    Open Wednesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3  p.m. and 5-9 p.m.

    Sunday 12-8 p.m.

    (408) 645-5001





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