Few ethnic groups in the East Bay are as tight-knit as the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in North Oakland. Immigrants from the country began arriving here in the mid-1970s, fleeing the communist revolution under way back home. Once here, it took the opening of a single restaurant, Asmara on Telegraph, and soon the community began to build up and around the Temescal district and beyond. Like the Indian community in San Leandro and Berkeley, restaurants gave way to markets, musical groups, and community centers.
Asmara Restaurant (5020 Telegraph Ave.) is not only one of the oldest of the Ethiopian eateries, it also has the best ambience, with intimate eating nooks flanked by rattan weaving and African art. There is a bright and somewhat boisterous bar to the side, usually full of regulars from the community -- soccer fans, of course -- downing cold Ethiopian beer or tej, honey wine.
One of the best imports from Ethiopia is its music, and though there aren't any cohesive, genuine Ethiopian bands in the East Bay, there is a plethora of musicians who frequently get together to play weddings at the Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Church (1901 Eighth St., Berkeley). Okay, so maybe crashing someone's wedding just to hear Aster Aweke covers ain't your bag, but for great Ethiopian music on a weekly basis, you ain't seen nothing until you've seen this church's Ethiopian gospel choir singing in Amharic. Visitors are more than welcome to the services, but you must remove your shoes at the door. (Regular churchgoers change into traditional African clothing as well.) After church everyone meets downstairs for coffee, tea, and socializing.
When Ethiopians in the East Bay really want to have a celebration, they go down to Half Moon Bay for a freshly slaughtered sheep, then drive it back up here and prepare it. But for less auspicious home-cooked events, the offerings at Brundo Meats and Deli (brundo means red, raw meat) do the trick. The market (at 6419 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) also offers an array of African spices and teas. Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian cooks will have a fit-fit finding all they need to prepare their own doro wat. Next door to Brundo, for authentic Ethiopian videos and DVDs, music, and other bits of culture, try the Albo African Gift Shop (6421 Telegraph Ave., Oakland). It also is a travael agency suitable for planning those late-summer trips to Addis Ababa. But why travel to Africa, when we have some of the best of Ethiopia right here?