Taste the World / Lucy Ethiopian
916 Tonawanda Street, Buffalo; 597-2305
Owner: Abba Biya
Iin business since: 2012, new location opened in April 2017
Lucy, named for the famous skeleton of the three-million-year-old early human female skeleton discovered by archaeologist Donald Johanson in Ethiopia in 1974, brought Ethiopian cuisine to Buffalo in 2012. Since then, owners Abba and Naima Biya have demonstrated a commitment to preparing authentic high-quality, flavorful Ethiopian food while being responsive to their customers’ diets and desires—most notably a move toward more vegetarian dishes. Abba still loves making traditional meat stews, or wot, fragrant with berbere, and tibs, which is kind of like an Ethiopian version of fajitas with marinated meat sautéed with vegetables.
The basis of most Ethiopian meals is injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread, basically a large pancake with a slightly spongy texture. It is traditionally made with flour ground from teff, a grass whose seed is incredibly high in fiber, iron, and calcium and contains the amino acids required to be a complete protein while being gluten-free. Injera is a national dish in Ethiopia and is used as both plate and utensil. Diners simply tear off a piece, scoop up some food with it, and pop it in their mouths. We spoke with Abba Biya about his new location, which offers more seating and a very cool coffee ceremony room straight off the African plateau.
How do you see the mission of the restaurant?
The mission of the restaurant is hard work. For Ethiopian food, most of my customers are vegetarian or vegan. It takes time to cook. Everything is cooked fresh. We don’t serve frozen food kind of stuff.
Do you have to go to any specialty markets for the ingredients?
Yes. Injera, the bread we serve is gluten free. And that takes about twenty-four hours to make. It’s made with teff, grown only in Ethiopia. It needs time to get fermented. With this climate, it takes time—about two to three days to ferment.
Do you do the cooking?
Yes. I learned from my mom. And before I opened this restaurant, I took classes at George Brown College; a six-month course. It’s a passion now.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
I like to cook lamb dishes and goat, like awaze tibs. Now I’ve switched to more vegetarian because most of my customers’ diet. I serve more veggie combo, chickpea, lentil, cabbage, and collard greens.
How do people usually eat here?
It’s most family style. We serve individuals, as well, it depends how you want it. You use your hands to eat. You take a piece of injera and pick up the food. We will provide utensils if someone wants them.
When did you move to the United States from Ethiopia?
I’ve been here about six years.
Do you miss Ethiopia?
Do you have family here?
There’s a group of family around here, about 1,500 to 1,700 people around here in Buffalo and Canada.
What’s the national food of Ethiopia?
Doro wot, chicken drumstick with a boiled egg. That’s a lot of cooking, so that takes all day to prepare.
Do you have a special spice mixture?
Yes, berbere. There are many spices [including] cardamom, fenugreek, cumin, ginger, chilies, paprika.
Wendy Guild Swearingen is senior editor of Spree.