A lesson before trying
Before last night, I had never tried Ethiopian food. A friend and I had dinner plans and were feeling adventurous so we decided to hit up Addis Abeba of Evanston.
Upon arriving, the two of us were seated at a small table, surrounded by about twenty other small, but empty, tables. The waitress had to juggle her time between what seemed to be an Ethiopian family and two ignorant (about Ethiopian food) Americans.
Having browsed the menu prior to said plans, I had my stomach set (pun intended) on ordering some steak tartare, also known as kitchu. Whatever desire I had for this raw ground beef completely escapes me now, but prior to the meal, there was no talking me out of it. After skimming the menu a bit further, my friend and I noticed some combination platters, and asked the waitress what she recommended. Since we had no idea what anything tasted like, we let her talk us into the Chef’s Combo for two.
Me: Does that come with the steak tartare?
Waitress: Oh no, it has two other kinds of meat.
Me (in a slight panic): Ok ok, we’ll take the steak tartare appetizer then.
Waitress: Ok, would you like that rare (lublub) or raw(tere?)
My friend: Raw please!
We both figured we needed the full effect, but boy did we not know what we got ourselves into. Here is what was brought to our table:
On the right, you are looking at some rolled up pieces of injera, the Ethiopian form of bread. Set down next to it was this bowl of mush, which to be honest, since she didn’t say right away, we had no idea was the steak tartare. We thought maybe this was the “bread and butter” of Ethiopian restaurants. Nope, that blood red bowl of mush was what I had ‘wanted’ all day: a generous helping of seasoned and marinated raw ground beef…
We studied for a minute then dug in, because that’s what we came to do, right? Yea, there enlied the mistake that would ruin the rest of the meal for us, as well our impressions of Ethiopian food. Not only was the meat really unappetizing, but we had to slather it all over roll after roll of that damned injera.
I do apologize if I offend anyone now, but I am no such fan of Ethiopian bread. To me, it is like eating foam. So, needless to say after eating foam covered in raw meat, our stomachs were quite the opposite of excited for the rest of the meal. But our minds weren’t! What’s next?
The waitress set this giant colorful platter of foods in front of us and then quickly distinguished each food. I’ll do my best to recount most of it now but you’ll forgive me if I fail in my accuracy.
The two meats were the dark brown and light brown piles that surround the white circle in the center (cottage cheese.) The darker brown meat was called doro wot, also known as chicken legs cooked in a red pepper sauce among other seasonings. The lighter brown, was some kind of beef that had a sweeter taste to it (unfortunately I’m not sure which entree it was, maybe YOU can figure it out from the menu?) The yellow section, to your bottom left, was the azifa which are “cold lentils, tomatoes and jalapeno seasoned with ginger,garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.” To its right (the reddish brown section,) was some mitin shiro, also known as “roasted, powdered chick peas simmered in spiced butter with cinnamon and cloves.” The other yellow section on the bottom right, is a medley of carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, called tekil gomen. I think these bottom three vegetable entrees were my favorites, and luckily they were closer to me! Woo.
Next (if you haven’t noticed, we’re going around the circle to the right) we have an Ethiopian salad, which while my friend enjoyed it, I pretty much hated and I’m not sure why (maybe cause I had to eat it on the bread??) Following the salad was another medley of zucchini, carrots, and potatoes simmered in a tomato sauce. Above that was the fosolia which is green beans and carrots simmered in vegetable oil. And finally (I don’t know why I’m ending on something I’m completely unsure of) we have what I believe to be the kinche, an Ethiopian cracked wheat pilaf seasoned with spiced butter. Oh, and more salad. How’d I do?
Most of the food was actually pretty delicious. There were just two problems: we had queasy stomachs and no utensils in front of us, how were we going to eat it? Enter: MORE FOAM, I mean… injera!
Not that I expected to be given forks necessarily, but knowing how this bread tasted made my stomach take a pitfall when the waitress instructed us to scoop up all this food with pieces of it. I’ve learned that in Ethiopia (as well as a whole slew of other African countries like Somalia, and Kenya) the injera is not only considered food, but also a utensil, and…..get this, a plate!
That’s right, if you look closely at above photo (hint look where the salads used to be) you might see that under all of those vegetables, spices, and meats, was ANOTHER entire layer of injera! Supposedly the meal isn’t over until you have eaten the bottom layer (plate) of the bread that has soaked up all of the entrees’ juices. If that’s the case, my meal is still not over, and I will never have closure to my Ethiopian meal for the rest of my life. Damn.
Speaking of ‘tradition,’ I think I could have used a little more explanation during my meal. While the waitress had to put up with a lot of our obliviousness, I would have appreciated some sort of “this is how we do things” to get the full effect. I’ve heard that if you’re a first timer to Ethiopian food, you’re supposed to get your first bite hand-fed to you. Did this happen? No. Did I know this at the time? Nope. First bite over, I might now be doomed among Ethiopian tradition. Has anyone else heard this before?
Overall, it was a fun experience that was only ruined by my stupid decision to order the steak tartare. If we hadn’t started off with this, we would have no queasy stomachs, and we may not have been so sick of the injera. I should have ordered this instead:
While I’m in no hurry to have more, I know I need to try at least another variation of Ethiopian cuisine before passing any real judgment.
-Hillary, wondering if all of her friends that recommended the restaurant liked the bread…