Fasika: Bringing a Neighborhood Together with an Ethiopian Feast
By Delia Hagan
“The best thing about my job is when people say ‘I love the food’ and they leave happy,” says Befekadu Defar, owner of the beloved Somerville Ethiopian restaurant, Fasika.
It’s no wonder Befekadu seems so happy – his customers certainly are. My husband and I wandered down to Fasika on a bitterly cold Sunday night to try the authentic Ethiopian fare at this cozy, family-run restaurant. As we took off our coats and settled in, we noticed Fasika’s diverse patrons – folks of all ages and ethnicities, from young people on what seemed to be a first date, to old friends catching up, to whole families laughing and talking around the mesob (a traditional Ethiopian woven serving table). It was clear that Fasika is a gathering place for friends and family. Its atmosphere exuded warmth, making us feel instantly at home, despite our lack of familiarity with Ethiopian food and culture.
We were warmly welcomed by Befekadu, who was posted up at the bar, greeting his customers one by one. After our meal (which was delicious, see our rave reviews below), Befekadu shared some stories with us about his restaurant, and his appreciation for the East Somerville community, which welcomed him with open arms 14 years ago.
Befekadu, who has a background in culinary science and hotel management, brought the restaurant to East Somerville during a time of great demographic change. Before Fasika opened, the building it now occupies was an Irish Pub, with a large following of Irish American patrons. Befakadu was unsure how his traditional Ethiopian food would be received, and he wanted to respect the community’s existing preferences, so he began serving Irish food as well. For 4-5 years, he served up corned beef and cabbage alongside injera (traditional Ethiopian pancake-like bread) and a wide variety of traditional Ethiopian vegetarian and meat dishes. The community loved it. Fasika was even known for their annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, where they served the neighborhood’s favorite Irish fare. Befekadu fondly remembers a compliment he received during this time from a City of Somerville school official, who remarked that she wished the schools could achieve such peaceful coexistence and respect among those of different cultures. “This community has been so supportive – instead of rejecting me, they gave me a chance. That is part of our fabric,” says Befekadu.
As the demographics of East Somerville shifted, the demand for Fasika’s Ethiopian fare grew, and the restaurant began to focus on what it does best. Now, Fasika serves exclusively Ethiopian food, and finds that patrons of all backgrounds come from all over the Boston area (and New Hampshire!) to experience it. People seek out Fasika because of their healthy vegetarian and vegan options, and they are known for their delicious dorowot, or spicy sauce, which is a crowd-pleaser. “Some people come because Ethiopian food is out of the ordinary for them,” Befekadu says, from the seasonings that are used to the way food is eaten with your fingers, communally. He fondly speaks of all the patrons who come for the first time, asking “what do I do?” when the food arrives.
Befekadu joked that the food at Fasika is addictive – once you taste their spices and seasonings, it’s tough not to return. My husband and I can attest that this is not a joke! We loved what we ordered and can’t wait to try everything else on the menu.
We ordered the Fasika special with lamb, which was served over injera, with chickpeas on the side. The seasoning was mind-blowingly delicious – not too spicy, but totally different than anything I’ve had before. We also ordered a vegetarian dish with green beans and carrots, which was so flavorful. To go with it, we split a glass of tej, traditional Ethiopian honey wine, which balanced out our meal with its sweetness.
Fasika takes its welcoming atmosphere to an even greater level with its many vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options, making it a place where anyone can enjoy a delicious meal (call ahead for gluten free!). With its social, welcoming atmosphere, incredible food, great service, and convenient location to the orange line, we will definitely be making regular stops at Fasika.
The name Fasika translates to “feast,” and that is certainly what we found at this charming East Somerville gem. Check them out at YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City on April 6th – we’ll see you there!
To see all the restaurants that will be featured at this year’s YUM event, click here.
YUM: A Taste Immigrant City is an evening of culinary tastes from immigrant-run Somerville restaurants and local world entertainment, which benefits the work of The Welcome Project, Somerville’s largest immigrant and advocacy organization. The Welcome Project serves over 200 families each year. The event will be held April 6 at the Arts at the Armory. To purchase event sponsorships or tickets click here.