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 carry an inordinate amount of germs, this is probably not the right choice for you, either.
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.
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.
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.