Nab is bugging our waitress at Habesha for a sample of straight nit’r qibe, the spice-amped clarified butter that turned this pile of chopped raw beef into kitfo, Ethiopia’s unconscionably rich steak tartare. Her puzzled look makes sense. The telltale neon-orange substance is everywhere, slicking our napkins and fingers, pooling up in the crevices of the crêpelike injera lining our platter. The flavors are redolent, intense: fenugreek, fiery chilies, and, soaring above, a lavender-edged burst of cardamom. “Also lippia, a citrusy, floral herb,” says Nab, as we take turns scooping up mounds of buttery beef with torn injera until all that’s left is the spongy, beurre-plumped base, so delicious you could sell it. “Tonight’s special: gently used injera,” I deadpan, devouring a fat-sodden swath for effect. Nab resumes quizzing the waitress; I resume embarrassedly scanning the room. A table over, a grandfather makes methodical work of rubbing a whole tilapia with lemon. Oops: caught. “Try some?” he asks, handing over a piece with calloused fingers. It’s dry, but I’ve got just the orange-hued remedy. What’s more, Nab’s pestering has paid off. “Frifari,” he announces. Say what? “Ethiopian for leftover scraps of nit’r qibe–soaked injera—apparently, a coveted treat!” Frifari Food Truck, huh. Now that’s got a nice ring.
Adventures in gastronomical geekery at Habesha, 535 Main St., Malden, 781-399-0868.