Stepping into Habesha is an otherworldly experience thanks to its low ceiling adorned with baubles and tinsel, vintage-patterned wallpaper and dimly-lit corners. Hookah smoke fills the air and Ethiopian music blares at all hours, with a stage hosting live music every night from about 11:30pm.
It also serves up large portions of authentic Ethiopian food. In keeping with tradition, it’s all about sharing and eating with your hands, here. The nation’s best-known dish, wat, a slow-simmered thick stew, dominates the menu. It comes with beef, chicken and lamb, while there are also plenty of vegetarian options, with prices all coming in around the B200-400 mark. The stew is served on a plate of injera, a fermented bread that resembles a large pancake. Slightly sour, the bread is great for soaking up the rich, spicy flavors on offer.
If you’re new to it, your best bet is to try them all as part of the Ultimate Combination (B1,000, serves 2-3 people). Otherwise, steer clear of the out-of-place pizza and pasta options and order a large serving of doro wat (chicken stew, B250) or the lamb tibs (sautéed lamb with vegetables, B350). The former is known for packing quite a punch due to a bright red, flavorful spice blend called berbere (similar in flavor to paprika), and the version here doesn’t disappoint on the heat front. Not too greasy, the dish’s tender chicken and heady spices will have you a dripping, delighted mess. The lamb tibs is a comparatively drier affair, though equally aromatic. On our last visit, however, we found the slender strips of lamb a bit gristly and the dish’s all-round flavor bland in comparison to the doro wat.
While Ethiopian cuisine puts a lot of emphasis on meat, it’s also known for its many vegetarian dishes, even if an option here like the atkilt (curried vegetable stew with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, peppers and onion, B200) is more a palate cleanser than main attraction.
Habesha is about more than the food, though. Don’t leave without ordering a strong Ethiopian coffee (B100), a real ceremony to be savored with its accompanying burning incense and snack of lightly roasted barley and peanuts. Habesha may not entirely extricate itself from the less than salubrious surrounds of Soi Nana, with its plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants, but it‘s a lot of fun and really an experience like no other in Bangkok.