1704 Broadway • Sacramento
Food should be an experience, not a chore.
It should be an adventure eating something you’ve never heard of or maybe can’t even pronounce. Sometimes it’s not only about the way a dish tastes but the way a meal can be prepared, where the food came from or a certain way you have to eat it.
Submerge takes you on an experience with food that originates more than 8,900 miles away. But for this adventure you only need to travel to 17th and Broadway, where Queen Sheba brings the foreign spices of Ethiopian cuisine back home to the capital city.
One of the best parts of eating Ethiopian food is that there isn’t a utensil in sight—no knives, spoons or forks seated neatly on a napkin next to your plate. It is a true hands-on experience. But it’s not as messy as it sounds; you use pieces of thin, spongy sourdough bread called injera to scoop up bits of your meal into your hand before you devour it. The injera are served as rolls in a small basket where you can rip pieces off for your meal.
A few words might sound unfamiliar to anyone uninitiated in Ethiopian cuisine; for example, a dish called “Wot” (or wat) is similar to a thick stew or curry, Tibs are prepared in various ways but are normally served as meat and vegetables, and berbere is a spice mixture that consists of peppers, garlic, ginger, basil and other spices.
The menu is divided up into different meats and vegetables. Queen Sheba has options of beef, chicken, lamb and fish, along with vegetarian and vegan options. Most of the meats and vegetables that you order will be mixed with spices and sauces that complement each dish and served “family style” on a large round metal tray that is lined with injera on the bottom. The food is neatly arranged on the platter and ready for everyone to grab their roll of injera bread and dig in.
On a recent visit, we were immediately enveloped in the wafting aromatic spices, walls adorned with wooden sculptures and artwork, and music videos playing that highlight the Ethiopian culture. The grand meal for the night started off with mango juice and honey wine, a traditional Ethiopian beverage. The mango juice was freshly squeezed and tasted similar to a thick fruit smoothie. The honey wine, which has a similar taste to mead, was very sweet and had a strong sweet aftertaste of honey.
To start, there was the appetizer called Sambussa lentil wrap. The triangle wrap had a delicious flaky and fried outer coating that was stuffed with steaming green vegetables. The main course was the combo platter for two (great for newcomers who aren’t sure of what they should order), which costs $13.50 per person. The combo included Doro Wot, Key Wot, Lamb Tibs, Misr Kik Wot, Gomen and a salad. The Doro Wot has a stew-like consistency that comes with a piece of chicken and a boiled egg. It is a little tough to break into the boiled egg and chicken with the thin injera bread but once you do, it’s a few bites that you will not regret. The brown sauce is a mixture of spices, herbs, onion, garlic, ginger and berbere. Key Wot also has a stew-like consistency with beef pieces and spices. It is key to try and get the right amount of sauce and beef to fit on your piece of bread for the prefect bite. Misr Kik Wot are spiced red lentils that are stewed in onions, garlic and berbere sauce. The Gomen is a dark green mixture of spinach, collard greens, onions and garlic. It is a hearty but delicious concoction that gives you a break from the various meats. The salad is a standard side salad with a light pour of dressing, but it’s more fun to eat a salad with your hands and bread than it is with a fork.
It is definitely an adventure trying different meats and sauces with injera. You can switch between a small bite of chicken, beef, tender pieces of lamb, lentils or veggies. It’s also fun to get different mixtures on your injera and grab some veggies, sauce and beef all in one bite. And don’t be afraid to really dig into the bottom of the pan! The injera that lines the bottom of the meats and vegetables gets soaked with all of the spices and flavors, making it taste like a whole new bread altogether.
The only problem I had with all this food was to actually stop eating. And if you aren’t feeling that hungry for a full dinner, they offer vegetarian/vegan lunch buffet Monday through Friday for $8.99. A lot of restaurants in Sacramento can give you good food and a good atmosphere but most of them cannot offer a truly unique food adventure like Queen Sheba.
Queen Sheba is open Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday noon to 9 p.m. Visit Facebook.com/QueenShebaSac for more mouthwatering info!