Eureka’s Ethiopian International Café
Brings the Goods
Authentic • Local • Organic
By Banjamin Fordham | Photography by Bob Doran
Nolawi Temesgan is quick to smile, and quick to laugh. He is also passionate about his Rastafarian religion and his Ethiopian roots, and it’s this combination of lightness and drive that he brings to his restaurant, Eureka’s Ethiopian International Café. As the café approaches its one-year anniversary, Temesgan sat down with the Emerald to discuss food, life, and more food.
Temesgan was born and raised in Ethiopia, a place that he describes as lush and diverse. One of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, Temesgan says it bothers him that his homeland is still associated with the starvation and malnourishment that happened in one region of the country decades ago. “My whole purpose is showing Ethiopia and Africa in a good light,” he says of his work with the café.
At age 10, Temesgan moved to the states, first to St. Louis and then San Francisco. “That was awesome,” he says of his time in the Bay Area, where his mother still lives. “San Francisco is a great city to live in…It’s great for food.” Taught to cook traditional Ethiopian food by this mother, it was in San Francisco that Temesgan began to cut his teeth in the restaurant world. During his time working in Telegraph Ave.’s award-winning Café Colucci, Temesgan says he made over 10,000 injeras, the bread that is a staple of the Ethiopian diet. “I honed my skills there,” he says.
Ethiopian food has similarities with Indian and
North African food, rich with complex spice combinations, but it definitely has a flavor all its own. Onions, garlic, ginger, and turmeric provide the staple flavors, which are combined with slow-cooked beef, lamb, chicken, or veggies. Temesgan gets all his spices directly from Ethiopia. “That’s what makes the food,” he says. “That’s what people come for.”
Almost everything is served with the injeras, a delicate crepe-like bread that Temesgan makes fresh throughout the day. “That’s the main bread that comes with everything,” he says. The injeras are made with teff flour, an Ethiopian staple grain that is rich in protein, iron, calcium, and other beneficial nutrients. The injeras provide the perfect compliment to the savory fillings.
Temesgan is a traditionalist when it comes to his menus. “I like to keep it pretty classic,” he says. “Some spicy, some mild.” And with new specials every week, there is always something different to try. But the greatest satisfaction for Temesgan comes from seeing people enjoy his food. “I get a great joy out of that,” he says. “I get that same feeling (as the customers).”
So stop by soon, check out the captivating photo exhibit of Ethiopian women by Maureen Fitzgerald, and, if you’re lucky, catch Temesgan playing his melodica. The Ethiopian International Café is located at 210 4th St. in Eureka, on the 101. Lunch is served daily from 11-3, with dinner served from 5-8:30 weekdays and 5-9 on weekends. You can call and order ahead at (707) 407-3630. You can also visit Temesgan’s food cart on the Arcata Plaza for Farmers’ Market on Saturdays through November 22nd.