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All hands-on dishes - Brooklyn Paper

All hands-on dishes

Catch them if you can: Hawi Hailu, Sam Saverance, Kedija Ali run the Ethiopian food pop-up Bunna Cafe, now serving delicious coffee and savory vegan dishes at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

When life gives you Ethiopian lemons, make lemonade!

Sam Saverance moved to Africa with a background in design and development, and hoped to start a business incubator there — but failing that, he started an Ethiopian food pop-up in Brooklyn.

“The business didn’t play out, but I got immersed in the culture and food,” said Saverence, who can be found at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Williamsburg, his most recent pop-up location.

After returning to the States, Saverence did not want to let his Ethiopian experience go to waste. Thinking others would love traditional Ethiopian food as much as he did, he opened Bunna Café in May 2012 along with two Ethiopian transplants living in New York City.

The Brooklyn-based traveling eatery, which only operates on weekends (all three partners hold day jobs), specializes in hearty vegan fare and traditional Ethiopian coffee.

Highlights include misir, a dish of split red lentils cooked with berbere, a sauce made from Ethiopian red peppers, cardamom, red onion, garlic and ginger, as well as keysir, a dish of simmered beets, carrots and potatoes.

“They’re hearty, tasty vegan dishes that emulate savory meat,” said Saverence. “It’s vegan for carnivores.”

Though the menu and coffee remain consistent, Bunna’s digs do not.

The café began by popping up at secret underground dinner parties, and now travels around weekend-to-weekend. They can be found in new bars, cafes, and anywhere else that will host them for Brooklynites to sample their traditional Ethiopian fare.

“As a designer, a pop-up gives me the opportunity to set up in a different space each time,” said Saverence.

Brooklyn is a long ways from Ethiopia, but locals have reacted well to Bunna’s creative offerings. By springtime, Saverence hopes to open a permanent brick-and-mortar shop in Williamsburg while continuing to run the pop-up.

“The best part is the look in people’s eyes when they try the food,” he says.

“Plus, I like being able to eat it myself.”

Bunna Cafe at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar (45 N. Fifth St. between Wythe and Kent avenues in Williamsburg, wwww.bkbazaar.com, www.bunnaethiopia.net). Fri., Sat., through Dec. 22, 6 pm–midnight.

Dig in: Co-founder of Bunna Cafe Sam Saverance says his offerring of Ethiopian is like vegan food for carnivorous eaters.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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