Family Convenience Store, Harrisburg, VA, Serves Up Ethiopian Cuisine Family Style!

    

By Danielle Bussone

 

Chef, Tirhas Negassi Woldebabr and Manager, Mehari. T. Ocbamichael, owners of Family Convenient Store

Chef, Tirhas Negassi Woldebabr and Manager, Mehari T. Ocbamichael, owners of Family Convenient Store

 

In one of the most unlikely places, we discovered a gem of an Ethiopian restaurant located in the recesses of a small family owned convenience store, appropriately name Family Convenience Store. The chef, Tirhas Negassi Woldebabr, was once the chef of a favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the same city, called The Blue Nile. We had reviewed The Blue Nile several years ago and were dismayed to learn that it had closed. What I remember best was how delicious the food was, especially the Ethiopian Peanut Soup served with an unforgettable bread, Ambashi, which is the national bread of Ethiopia, according to Tirhas’s husband and partner, Mehari. T. Ocbamichael. With overtones of honey, it was a perfect complement to the to-die-for peanut soup.

 

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Now, the couple has opened up the Family Convenience Store, and Tirhas is back, juggling batches of batter between three grills, efficiently making injera and ambasha breads for her customers. She also prepares a wonderful menu of Ethiopian stews, called Wot (pronounced What), served on the spongy sourdough injera flatbread for which Ethiopia is famous. She offers packages of fresh injera for sale in the store, as well as with the dinners she prepares for eat-in or take-out service. Their daughter, a newly graduated high-school student, helps out in the store when she’s needed.

 

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Mehari manages the Family Convenience Store, which offers all the standard items one can find at an American convenience store, but it also provides a range of Ethiopian goods, such as an assortment of spices, teff flour, and false banana root. I bought some of the false banana, though I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with it. I just couldn’t resist! You may wonder whether there is a demand for Ethiopian products in the area, but it seems there is. Harrisonburg boasts a thriving Ethiopian community of 400 families. It is no wonder a constant stream of native Ethiopians drifted in and out during our visit, picking up bundles of fresh injera for their families or filling the small tables in the back to enjoy a meal.

 

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Tirhas was kind enough to show us how she makes both injera and ambasha, which is almost unbelievable since Ethiopians tend to guard their injera recipes with their lives. Making injera is an art that takes time to master. Some people never get it right; Tirhas certainly does.

 

The quality of injera is measured by the size and number of little holes in the top, called "eyes." This gives injera its spongy texture. This injera is perfect.

The quality of injera is measured by the size and number of little holes in the top, called “eyes.” This gives injera its spongy texture. This injera is perfect.

 

But let’s get to the food. While there isn’t a huge variety of vegan fare, it is certainly enough to give you a filling taste of authentic Ethiopia with a good balance of nutrients. We ordered the Gomen (collard greens), Misir Wot (spicy red lentils), and the Diniche Alicha (potatoes, green beans, and carrots), which included a tasty salad of tomatoes, lettuce, onion and jalapeño peppers with a lemony dressing.  The injera is some of the best we’ve tasted anywhere. It was soft and pillowy, with a slight sourdough flavor.

 

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While we were speaking with Tirhas, we ran into Rick Yoder, who had popped in to let her know that he was bringing in a party of four later that evening. A former economics professor of Eastern Mennonite University, Yoder is now a Health Systems Consultant for low-income countries. Rick had once lived in Ethiopia and tells us that this convenience store/restaurant is a very typical venue there. He says he loves the food and attests to Family Convenience Store’s authentic flavors. What he particularly likes is that it hasn’t been Americanized like a lot of the Ethiopian restaurants he’s tried in this country. Not having visited Ethiopia ourselves, we can’t attest to that, but we can say this food is equal to or better than many of the Ethiopian restaurants we’ve visited and the injera, which is the heart of any Ethiopian meal, is among the best.

 

Former University Professor with

Rick Yoder loves the great Ethiopian cuisine at Family Convenience Store!

 

Do yourself a favor the next time you are tooling down I-81 South and are hankering for some good Ethiopian cuisine. Stop by Family Convenient Store and enjoy the best Ethiopian food within a 100-mile radius!

 

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Tirhas swears by the Heritage grill. She has been using one of hers for twelve years and she has bought two more to keep up with her baking demands, making three injera in quick succession. She feels they are the best, especially for the price. You will need the lid, which is purchased separately. I, personally, have a Wass digital grill (mitad). You can get it at half the price listed on Amazon at almost any Ethiopian market, but you will no doubt pay a lot in shipping costs. I’ll add a link to that product below. I am happy with my purchase but have not had it long enough to verify its longevity.

 

  

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles and interviews of people who are making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” released January 1, 2015.

Danielle’s region is SW Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina and anywhere she happens to stop for sustenance along the road. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

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Erin from Erin and the Wildfire

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Firefly Fare, inside the Market Square

Danielle at Firefly Fare, inside the City Market Building

 

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Firefly Fare Green Juice

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