Kitfo -- finely minced beef seasoned with the Ethiopan herbed clarified butter called niter kibbeh and the tongue-searing spice blend called mitmita -- originated in the foodways of the Gurage people of southern Ethiopia. The deceptively simple dish, generally served raw in its homeland, gained popularity throughout the country and became a mainstay on menus in the U.S. once waves of immigrants started opening restaurants here.
Megenagna, tucked into a strip mall on Aurora's sleepy Ironton Street, serves several versions of kitfo, including a vegetarian option, but the Gurage kitfo stands out as the most traditional and deeply delicious.
For those a little leery of eating raw beef, Megenagna will cook the dish to your preference - they recommend rare, but will also accommodate those who won't tolerate even a tinge of pink. The dish comes with ayib, a house-made, fine-grained cottage cheese that is strained and served in two scoops: one plain and one mixed with a melange of spices heady with cardamom, turmeric and clove, to name a few. A deep green mound of perfectly seasoned minced collard greens round out the dish.
The servers at Megenagna recommend turning the contents of the bowl onto a blanket of tangy injera -- the pancake-like fermented flatbread that serves as plate, spoon and accompaniment for just about every Ethiopian meal -- so that each bite contains a little meat, cheese and greens. Ethiopian meals are a shared and leisurely experience; Megenagna's quaint interior (choose a seat under one of the palm-leaf awnings) allows diners to sit back and soak up the nuances of the layered seasoning that grabs the palate with an initial burst of heat but continues with waves of tartness from the injera, autumnal flavors from the spice blend and cool creaminess from the cheese.
Are you a fan of raw beef dishes, whether from Ethiopia or other parts of the world? Let us know of your favorite kitfo, carpaccio, beef tartare or other beef served barely off the hoof in the comments section below.
In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're already loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city. And over the next nine months, we'll be sharing many of them with you, counting down (in no particular order) one hundred of our favorite dishes before the the Best of Denver 2015 hits the streets on March 26. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at [email protected]
Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2014 countdown are linked below.