Cafe Colucci Creates Delicious Suff

Sippable sunflower seeds surface in this Ethiopian treat.


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If you made a pie chart crunching the numbers and types of Oakland’s foreign restaurants, Ethiopian cuisine would make up a sizable slice. Nearly every neighborhood sports at least one Ethiopian restaurant; Rockridge and Temescal sport a lot. Granted, Oakland is home to one of North America’s largest Ethiopian and Eritrean populations. But face it: East Africans aren’t the only ones wolfing the wat.

Other Oaklanders adore Ethiopian food, and here’s one reason why: In this city whose skyline even in summer can be gray-on-gray, Ethiopia’s peppery tibs, gingery shorbas, and turmericky alichas speak—sometimes soothingly, sometimes with a throat-shearing shout—of the sun.

And what speaks of it more clearly—hey, ask Vincent van Gogh—than big, bright, bobbing-under-a-blazingly-blue-sky sunflowers?

These hairy-stemmed giants are a profitable crop in Ethiopia. Amenable to many different soil types, sprouting finely branched roots uniquely capable of sucking up even the scantiest nutrients, and unthirsty enough to thrive during droughts, sunflowers are grown there mainly for their oil, but also for their seeds. The seeds are eaten plain but also boiled until soft, ground into a paste (by hand or in a blender), and mixed with water and other ingredients to make a sauce called suff fitfit and a drink called, simply, suff. Savory suff fitfit contains salt, onions, chives, and torn-up bits of spongy injera bread. As served at Café Colucci, suff is a honey-sweetened sunflower-seed frappé, slightly thicker and mealier—in an earthy, seedy, satisfying way—than its genteel California cousin, almond milk.

Because suff is just as protein-, vitamin-, and antioxidant-rich as other nut and seed milks, it’s a favorite Lent-season staple for Ethiopian Christians, who represent the vast majority in their home country. For the lactose intolerant of any nationality, suff—to which some cooks add rue and/or ginger—serves as a silky milkless shake. Subtle at first sip, suff blooms on the palate with the concentrated perfume of eternal summer, of a thousand seeds that once were framed by golden petals, somewhere very far from here.

Café Colucci, 6427 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-601-7999, www.CafeColucci.com

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