A Family Favorite: Ethiopian Food

It’s one of my family’s most cherished food traditions: sharing a delicious meal at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in New York City. It started in the early 1990s with my first taste of Ethiopian food in Washington, D.C. and has become a meal my family looks forward to. My sister orders the food, I control the plate of bread, my mom takes the chicken meat off the bone so it’s easier to eat and my dad finishes all the lentil and vegetable dishes. We eat almost everything in front of us and complain how full we are for hours after the meal. Yum.

My sister and I have become vary particular about our Ethiopian food outings. We don’t invite just anyone into our dining group. No fast eaters (they’d finish everything before we got our fill), and no one who would be frightened by our carnivorous, overeating ways.

If you’ve never tried Ethiopian food, you wouldn’t understand my family’s enthusiasm. A meal at an Ethiopian restaurant is something everyone should experience. Even finicky eaters should give it a try – the taste is too good to resist.

If you like the spice and complex flavors of Indian food, you’ll like Ethiopian food – though the two taste nothing alike. It may not look that appetizing but the flavors are intense. Chicken, beef, lamb and vegetables are mixed with peppers, herbs and spices that create a bold and savory taste. You don’t use utensils; you pick up the food with injera, a flat, spongy bread that resembles a crepe and tastes like sourdough. The intense flavors of the food with the tangy taste of the injera is a combination I often find myself craving.

When my family goes out for Ethiopian food we always order the same dishes: doro wat, gomen besega, special tibs and a vegetable dish of green beans and carrots sautéed in a tomato sauce.

Doro wat is chicken stewed in a spicy berbere sauce and is served with a hard-boiled egg. Simply put, berbere sauce is really really good. It’s made with chili pepper, ginger, cloves, cardamom and other spices. If you enjoy wines that have big and complex flavors, you’ll like berbere sauce. The sauce is so big it’s hard to identify all the elements that combine for its taste.

Gomen besega is beef sautéed with collard greens. The collard greens are what make this dish. They have a delicious and slightly tart taste that refreshes your mouth after a bite of the spicy berbere sauce. I’ve tried to recreate the taste in my own kitchen with a mix of lemon juice and spices but haven’t come close.

If it’s your first time at an Ethiopian restaurant and you’re dining with one other person I recommend ordering doro wat and gomen besega to split.

Special tibs is chunks of lamb sautéed with onions, tomatoes and green pepper. It looks simple but the taste is an explosion of flavor. I like to dip it in the berbere sauce when the chicken and egg are gone.

The dishes are served together on one big platter for sharing. On the bottom is injera, which soaks up the sauce and tastes great when you’re getting towards the end of the meal. The food comes with a few side dishes; this past weekend it was two lentil dishes and collard greens flavored differently than the greens in the gomen besega.

It didn’t matter that my family had eaten a huge Thanksgiving dinner two nights before or that we started saying we were getting full halfway through – we finished nearly everything on the platter, including the injera on the bottom (the evidence is to the left). Each time we go out for Ethiopian food it’s the same – I eat way too much and am uncomfortably full for hours. I can’t help myself! The food tastes so good that I keep eating it until it’s gone.

If you don’t live in a city it may be hard to find an Ethiopian restaurant. If there is one in your area you should definitely make dinner plans. My family goes to Meskerem on West 47th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues in New York City. There are a few other Ethiopian restaurants in Manhattan. In Washington, D.C. you’ll find a bunch of Ethiopian restaurants in Adams Morgan. I’ve only found one restaurant in Miami: Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant, located in the Design District. The restaurant is currently closed and it’s not clear if or when it will reopen.

I’ve found recipes for injera and my favorite Ethiopian dishes online. I hope to try them sometime to see if I can recreate the great tastes in my own kitchen.

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