Tropical Foodies: What to Eat in an Ethiopian Restaurant

  • Linda Dempah, Tropical Foodies
  • 24 October 2012

This article was published by our friends at Africa.com, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Africa.com Blog.

Going to an Ethiopian restaurant is an interesting experience. It is not just about the food, which is delicious. It’s also about the surroundings, the community and the touch-and-feel rhythm of eating food with your hands. Do make sure that you go with people you actually like, as you will share the dishes with them. Also, if you are one of those people who believe that everyone else but them carries an inordinate number of germs, this is probably not the right choice for you, either.

The Ethiopian dish doro wat

What separates Ethiopian wats from other types of stews are the preparation: onions are cooked without liquid or fat to dry them out. The dried onions eventually act as a thickener for doro wat, which is most often made with chicken, beef or lamb. Photo courtesy of Rice and Wheat

The first time I went to an Ethiopian restaurant was in New York City, in the West Village. The restaurant was a hole in the wall and the place was dimly lit, but just like the other places on that street, it had character and, what is more important, fantastic food.

I went for dinner with a few friends and we were seated rather quickly. (This is always a bonus as a long waiting time can affect any dining experience). I quickly looked around and noticed that a few “Ethiopian-looking” patrons were enjoying their meals. I always interpret seeing people who know that particular food well as a good sign when going to a restaurant from a certain place.

The Ethiopian dish quanta firfir

Kwanta fir fir, or quanta firfir, is made with dried strips of beef mixed with torn pieces of injera, the ubiquitous Ethiopian sourdough flatbread that's served at almost all Ethiopian meals. Photo courtesy of Junkii's Safarii

I knew nothing about Ethiopian food, so I let my friends order. We waited a few minutes, and here came the dishes in all their glory. The injera – a light sourdough flatbread made with the flour of teff, a type of grass native to Ethiopia – literally served as the plate, as different types of meats and stews were piled on it. It was time to dig in!

I did not waste too much time trying to identify each dish at first. I just savored the flavors and embraced the carnal experience of eating with my hands. I felt immediately closer to my friends as we were passing dishes around, each of us plowing in with our fingers. Later on, after the meal, I identified what I had consumed: doro wot, a stew made with onions, chicken and the spice mix known as berbere; tibs, grilled chunks of meat that are sometimes mixed with vegetables; kwanta fir fir, made with dried strips of beef mixed with pieces of injera; and shiro wot, a chickpea-flour stew. What else did I eat? Who knows? Dishes kept flying by. It was amazing. It was good, but more than the food, the sharing made the experience special.

Ethiopian dish shiro wot

Shiro wot is one of the most popular items at any Ethiopian restaurant, as it's a dish that both carnivores and vegetarians can enjoy. Shiro refers to chickpeas, and this stew is made by cooking chickpea flour with liquid. Photo courtesy of Opera Girl Cooks

I don’t remember having had dessert. It’s all a blur.

I look forward to making another visit to a good Ethiopian restaurant, and to it reminding me of what life is about: sharing a meal with friends, good laughs, good food. It’s simple.

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Africa, Eastern Africa, Ethiopia, food & drink, personal experience,

One Response to “Tropical Foodies: What to Eat in an Ethiopian Restaurant”

  1. Laurie says:

    Does not look that good for me

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