Eat spaghetti with your hands at Den Den | Bleader

Eat spaghetti with your hands at Den Den

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Den Den spread
Eritrean food? Pretty much the same as Ethiopian. So says the Food Chain's east African cuisine correspondent, Harry Kloman. "I've asked Eritreans how the food is different," he writes. "Some say it's spicier, some say it's less spicy. Some say Eritreans use less butter so it's less greasy, others say no, that's not true. In other words: same food, just with different (Tigrinya) names."

Little less spicy, not particularly greasy is the MO at Rogers Park's Den Den, the city's only Eritrean restaurant, which replaced Las Islas Marias late last year. That's not to say it isn't worth checking out: at the very least it provides a socially acceptable opportunity to eat spaghetti with your hands.

Yep, spaghetti with tomato sauce is on the menu, thanks to the colonial Italian influence, but at Den Den the dish is in no way influenced by the unique spice profile of the Horn of Africa. The raw beef kitfo is similarly bland and unappealingly emulsified compared to the roughly minced fiery version at Lake Langano. But otherwise there's some decent stuff to be had: chunks of panfried whitefish in a spicy dark sauce (tsebh'i a'assa), the whole range of veggie offerings: okra, potato-carrot-cabbage trios, pulses like the chickpea shiro, and the spicy red lentil tsebhi'i brsen, as well as a breakfast combo of diced beans and fresh ricotta cooked in the clarified butter niter kibbeh and served with bread or nicely tangy injera. But the standout on the menu is the alicha'a t'ibsi derho, bone-in chicken pieces cooked down in a blazing, thick, dark berbere curry with hard-cooked eggs that absorb the fiery magic of this sauce. The room is red-lit and dark enough to process film in but roomy, and a nice place to put away the best thing going behind the bar. That's Den Den's house-made honey wine (known as mes in Tigrinya, rather than tej). Twenty-five dollars buys a sizable carafe of this yeasty sweet fermentation with a subtle bite.

Den Den, 6635 N. Clark, 773-973-4752

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