Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shagga Coffee - relearning how to go out to eat

Originally written in September
College town and coffee shops are usually rather synonymous, not so in College Park. There are a few of those round, green signed shops, but with a campus of 40,000+ I assumed that there would be at least one independent coffee place on or near campus. No dice.

The closest is Shagga Coffee & Restaurant on Route 1.

The coffee is good; probably the best I have had in Maryland thus far. The atmosphere is extremely laid back (read: no one kicked me out while I sat there for 4 hours reading) and the food, the food blew me away. I have never had Ethiopian food before (yes there are two places in Boston, and no, I was never adventurous enough to dare). But the prevalence of Ethiopian food - you can find injera bread at some gas stations - coupled with the lack of coffee shops and places to read for hours, won me over.

A lengthy discussion about bread - mainly the fact that there isn't a place in the D.C. area that makes a teff-only injera (teff is the grain that injera is typically made from, its a thin, crepe-like bread that is made from fermented teff flour). Acknowledging that all the bread was cut with wheat flour, the kind staff woman informed me that I could just order food and it would come not on the bread, but on a plate and she would bring utensil for me to be able to eat with. (Ethiopian food is usually eaten with the injera bread as the plate and utensil).

So here is where I feel like its important to note that a lot of my first-diagnosed-with-celiac-disease-panic came back. Moving to a new place, I didn't have any safe foods or safe places to eat. I got nervous a lot. There is not a lot of Thai food, nor Mexican restaurants. I felt like my go-to safety net of dining out options were gone. I got neverous at the idea of going out to eat. Would it be safe? Would I be able to explain what gluten is? Would I just give up and not eat and just get coffee or tea?

I say this because as I type it I know it sounds childish, but I truly got physically uncomfortable about many steps of the process. My hands sometime shook; my underarms sweat. I was almost in disbelief that it was happening. I AM ALMOST 30 YEARS OLD AND I AM AFRAID OF ORDERING LUNCH?!
It sounds nuts, but its very true. I felt like I was regressing back to the days where I would rather be hungry, deal with the pain that I knew, rather than risk the pain of being sick.

Transitioning to a new place is hard and it made me very aware of how careless or risky my dining habits had become. I became comfortable in Boston and didn't self-identify every time I went out to eat. I didn't want to; I still don't want to. I just want to be able to get food. I don't want to be "that person" who "makes a big deal" about ordering. Even though I know its not true, I KNOW that I am not being "finicky" it still feels that way. I miss being able to mindlessly order and eat food. And sometimes I get mad at old me for not taking advantage of it.

In other ways I recognize that I am a lot more aware of certain sensory experiences. I smell things much differently than ever before. If I cannot eat it, I usually smell it, and not a casual huff, no I am talking about a good, long inhalation and then I go back for a follow-up. I smell with a purpose, with the intention of knowing what something might taste like. Its weird, and I don't do it in front of everyone, but if we have gone out to a bar, there is a good chance I consider you a friend if I ask to smell your beer.

I miss beer.

Injera bread reminds me of beer, because its fermented and has a sourdough/beer smell to it. But I order the vegetarian tasting dish sans bread at Shagga Coffee and had a feast. It was far too much food, there were 11 different small dishes, and it took me over 1.5 hours to finish, but I did. There were 4 different lentil dishes, all with very different flavors and textures - there was a light tan, creamy lentil mash with crisp jalapenos throughout that was sour, spicy, addictive  and delicious. The meal reminded me a lot of the small dishes that come out before the main dishes at Korean restaurants - many little portions of spicy and cooling dishes. The collards were some of the most delicious greens I have ever eaten.

Its going to take a while to not get lost every time I leave the house, to explore beyond the 1/4 mile strip of dining options around College Park and take full advantage of D.C., but I am really exited to have found good coffee and new-to-me-food to try.


  1. A moving post about moving to a new place.

    Just wanted to let you know that I "adopted" your blog for The Book of Yum's Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger event. You can check out my post at my GF blog, The Crispy Cook.

    Keep up the great posts!

  2. If you're at UMCP, I can highly recommend the Terrapin Taco House if they're still around. Best fast-food "mexican" I found in the area.

  3. Sadly Terrapin Taco House is no more. I welcome MORE suggestions.

  4. It's been ages since I was in grad school there (over a decade), but we used to love the Japanese steakhouse in the "mall" in Beltsville/Greenbelt, and the greek place in the little plaza on route 1 just past campus (if you're coming from the beltway). Franklins (I think - old time hardware store turned restaurant) was further down Rt 1, but also delicious, and the chain tex-mex place next to denny's was always awesome. Lastly, in Laurel there's a lovely italian restaurant, Ferraris I think, which will have some gluten free options that taste great. Wish I remembered more to suggest, or knew for sure if places are still around.