Photos by Shannon Richardson

Marhaba Eritrean and Ethiopian Cuisine

Apart from popular Asian and Mexican cuisine, ethnic food can be difficult to find, especially away from Amarillo Boulevard. But Marhaba Eritrean and Ethiopian Cuisine on Paramount has slowly been introducing local diners to the complex spices and traditions of a less familiar culture.

The restaurant’s regular patrons also include, of course, Amarillo’s sizable population of East African refugees and immigrants, who also shop for supplies and ingredients in the market adjacent to the restaurant. The two nations, Eritrea and Ethiopia, don’t share a language but do share major cultural, religious and culinary traditions (Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993).

Owners Zaid Kiflemariam (at left), who operates the restaurant, and husband Allem Teklehaimanot, a local nurse, are originally from Eritrea. They opened in 2019, successfully navigated the pandemic, and have seen their business begin to thrive in recent years.

“We just wanted to serve the community from that part of the world and introduce something different for Amarillo,” Allem says. Marhaba is an Arabic greeting that means hello or welcome, and the couple have centered that hospitality at their restaurant. 

The menu items are everyday dishes prepared using traditional spices and methods. Common meat dishes include beef, chicken, goat or lamb, often served as a stew-like dish. And because religious fasting is common in Eritrea—which is home to substantial Christian and Islamic communities—vegetarian and vegan dishes are a staple, combining lentils, chickpeas and beans with extensive spices and herbs. One common mixture of traditional spices is known as berbere, which provides a flavorful base to many of Marhaba’s dishes. “The spices are very distinct,” Allem says. The use of garlic, chili peppers, fenugreek and other ingredients make each dish rich and complex.

Community and sharing are prominent within the culture. Most meals are served on a communal platter alongside injera, a spongy flatbread made from fermented teff flour. Teff, a tiny grain native to East Africa, is gluten-free and high in fiber and protein. Traditionally served without utensils, the various dishes—stews, salads and vegetables—are meant to be scooped up by hand using a torn piece of injera. “I tell [customers] this is the way we eat it traditionally, but there’s not a right or wrong way,” Allem says. The restaurant will gladly provide utensils when asked. “It’s whatever makes you comfortable.”

Coffee is thought to have originated in Ethiopia and carries a lot of respect in the couple’s culture. For East Africans, coffee is traditionally enjoyed after the meal—and drinking it is best understood as a ceremony. Zaid roasts and grinds coffee daily at Marhaba, brewing it in a traditional container called a jebena, then serving it in small espresso-size cups called finjal, often alongside popcorn. It’s strong and flavorful and shouldn’t be missed after a meal at Marhaba. This experience is meant to be savored, sometimes for hours following the meal, to enjoy the ritual, fragrance and taste. 

2522 Paramount Blvd.