Tasty Hut

Home is where the injera is.

HIDMO MEANS HOMEor, to be more precise, a compact hut with mud walls, a thatched roof, and a clay oven called a mogogo. On a cold, rainy evening last week, just 36 hours after the Great Snowstorm of '04 (which forced many restaurantsincluding Hidmoto close), the warm, modest Eritrean place in the Central District was back in business. After a day spent slogging through the slush, it felt as much like home to me as anything. In contrast to the comfort zone that is Hidmo, the country that inspired its cuisine, Eritrea, has had a most uncomfortable history. Claimed by Italian forces toward the end of the 19th century, the drumstick-shaped nation wedged between Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Red Sea gained some measure of freedom when the Allies defeated Mussolini in World War II. The nation's troubles didn't end there, howeverthe UN made a costly cultural gaffe, lumping Eritrea and Ethiopia (they both start with E, right?) into a federation in 1952. Much-larger Ethiopia wasted little time in making Eritrea part of its Lebensraum, provoking more than three decades of civil war. The infighting culminated in the early '90s, when Eritrea finally won its independence. A century of colonialism, whatever its evils, certainly influenced Eritrean cuisine. Many cookbooks depict Eritrean food as a pastiche of Ethiopian and Italian flavors, but Hidmo toes the Ethiopian line pretty staunchly, serving injeraa spongy, slightly sour flatbread used for scooping up meat and veggieswith several house specialties. The vegetable combination ($8.95) includes generous dollops of shuro (a spicy, tomato-based chickpea puree), alicha (cabbage, carrots, and potatoes), and a mound of rather bland spinach, plus a simple green salad. If you're especially hungry a deux, start with the house potato salad ($5.95), a lovely mixture of chopped tubers, tomatoes, chilies, and hard-boiled eggs in a vinegary dressing that recalls German potato salad (though the use of East African ingredients rather than bacon and pickles is hard to overlook). Hidmo's dinner menu lists several chicken, lamb, and beef dishes, and characteristic Eritrean preparations win out here. Alicha begie and alicha derho (both $8.95) introduce chicken and lamb, respectively, into the cabbage-carrot-potato mÚČínge described above; those intent on a lamb-a-thon may favor the meat combination platter ($10.95), which amounts to lamb prepared three ways. Hidmo serves brunch-style dishes at lunchtimescrambled eggs and frittata (both $5.25), for examplealongside more traditional recipes like dult ($5.95), also known as "spiced ground sheep casings served on injera." While the surrounding Rainier Valley blocks don't exactly pulse with nightlife, Hidmo's late-night hours make it a natural neighborhood hangout, and like the life-sized hidmo that's built in to a corner of the dining roomcomplete with mogogo and cubbyholes filled with decorative potterythe restaurant feels real and safe, like the end of a long, hard journey. nschindler@seattleweekly.com

 
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