We had not rehearsed this bit of theater, but when I placed an order for kitfo at Bete Ethiopian Cuisine and Cafe, my dining companion and I both blurted out, as if on cue, that we’d really like the dish raw. Our waiter looked as if he had just been assaulted by two-person flash mob. If there was an air of desperation in our voices, we had reason.
A week or so earlier, we had been sitting on the back patio at Bete, enjoying a cool summer evening in this leafy retreat, feeling as if we were a thousand miles from the hyper-commercial, hermetically sealed real estate that defines downtown Silver Spring. We were laying waste to a platter of stews, salads and tibs — save for the brown mound of kitfo in the middle of our injera, looking like cafeteria-grade sloppy Joe meat. We had specifically requested the kitfo raw, but it had been cooked to a shade of russet, leaving behind a crumbly, virtually dry pile of ground beef that allowed the searing mitmita spice blend to attack our palates without resistance.
We practically held our breath as we waited for our second order of kitfo, wondering if the kitchen would honor our request this time around. What arrived on our oval of slightly sour injera was this glistening hill of burgundy-colored beef, as moist as bread dough. The minced meat felt cool, fresh and buttery on the tongue, each element providing a counterbalance to the spice blend’s full-frontal assault of heat and fragrance. It was a kitfo experience to savor like a cherished childhood memory.