Dining Out: Explore Ethiopian Fare at Manna Bistro & Bakery

Dining Out: Explore Ethiopian Fare at Manna Bistro & Bakery

As you walk in the door, you might never guess that the tempting display of pastries and cakes are just a small sampling of what this kitchen puts out. Muffins, scones, bagels, tiramisu, chocolate chip cookies, cappuccino and breakfast tacos do not equate with Ethiopian doro wat or injera bread. But the real treat of this place lies behind the front counter: an Ethiopian restaurant.

The wall décor should tip patrons off: loads of native artifacts and paintings decorate the setting and the tables have plastic-covered pictures of Ethiopian scenes and people in native dress … plus some dishes. And when you are offered the menus, and you are puzzled by Ethiopian fare, the waitstaff can guide you along. You might also see that a part of the menu features vegetarian-meat and Latino fare, from pupusas and carne asada tacos to quesadillas and mojarra frita (fried whole fish with beans and rice).

But you really should focus on the Ethiopian cuisine, as the owners are Ethiopian, after all. If the cuisine is unfamiliar to you, ask for suggestions. But a terrific appetizer that will suit every palate is the sambussa, triangular-shaped pastries of flaky dough filled with a mixture of lentils, onions, and spices.

Scan down the menu for the main-course meat and/or vegetable entrées, which come with a round disc of the squishy, flat injera bread. What you order is spooned onto the bread that lines a serving platter, making it easy for you and/or your friends to scoop up mouthfuls of the toppings. Also ask for a side order of the bread, which comes as rolls heaped on a serving dish.

Meat categories include chicken, beef, lamb, and seafood, and if you love lamb, the number one choice is the savory cubed lamb, lamb tibbs. Other top choices include the chicken tibbs, cubed marinated chicken cooked with onions, jalapeños, garlic, and tomatoes. If you are a chicken fan, you might pick instead the chicken doro wat, a classic Ethiopian dish probably served in every Ethiopian restaurant. It comes as a chicken thigh (whole) simmered in a berbere sauce (a complex chile-and-spice blend stirred into a liquid).

Seafoodies should consider ordering the shrimp tibbs or the asa kitfo, a spicy blend of ground fish cooked with onions, garlic, jalapeños, and, of course, spices.

Consider adding on some vegetable sides: outstanding are the collard greens and red lentils. Just remember, everything will be spooned onto the injera bread that lines the serving platter. You can use that bread to pick up your food, or use a piece of the injera bread to dig in.

Traditionally, Ethiopians eat with their right hand — the left hand is considered unclean — and use the bread as a spoon or scoop. It’s that simple. Note: the owners also sell basic Ethiopian ingredients up front stacked in a series of shelves.

Manna Bistro & Bakery, 14215X Centreville Square (on Lee Highway), Centreville, 703-543-6900. Hours: Mondays- Fridays, 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.