Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ethiopian Cuisine

Ethiopian Cuisine was probably the catalyst that encouraged me start my Meetup group "What the Pho!" six years ago. I couldn't find anyone who would go out with me to eat it – not friends nor coworkers... unless I bribed them by offering to pay for their meal. So I ate alone holding a book. Do you have any idea how hard it is to eat Ethiopian food while reading a book? Six years later, “What the Pho!” has over a thousand Meetup members. I never knew there were so many people eager to try new cuisines and who loved getting their hands "dirty" while they eat.

“Mesob Veggie & Meat Combo”
Chef’s selection of vegetables and meat 
samplers $14.99
 Since the first time I tried Ethiopian food at the age of 17 (20++ years ago, shhh - a lady never tells her age) in Washington DC, I fell in LOVE. I can only try to explain it by saying, it's a happy marriage of my mother's Southern/"soul food" cooking mixed with Indian spices. Little did I know then that it would be almost another 17 years before I would eat it again. 

African nations are still emerging and pulling themselves out of poverty. But their cuisines should never be overlooked. Their foods reflect a combination of native cuisines mixed with the cuisines of countries who have occupied them over time (France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to name a few), creating something new, unusual and amazing.

On my most recent visit to Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant, I took a plunge from my usual meat or veggie combo (which I would highly recommend to anyone new to the cuisine). I ordered the Ethiopian spaghetti and it was delicious... I finished every last bite. And anyone who knows me knows, I always take home leftovers or leave a dish unfinished (if it's not suited to leftovers). I'm addicted now... and yes, they served it with toasted Italian bread and gave me a fork to eat it with.

"Vegetarian Entree Sampler"Chef’s selection of 
freshly prepared vegetable dishes
4 Types $8.99 || 7 types for one $10.99 || 
7 types for two $18.99
Yes, there is "Ethiopian spaghetti". Although Ethiopia has never been ruled by a foreign power, it was briefly occupied by the Italians in 1936. During the brief occupation, Ethiopians adopted spaghetti and made it their own with the berbere commonly used in Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking. Then there's the "Ethiopian fajitas" (as I like to call them) but more appropriately on the menu known as "Mesob tibs". I have yet to try them but have seen them come out sizzling on the skillet. We finally asked what they were on our last trip.
Your choice of lamb or beef cubes 
sautéed in 
herbed butter with onions, green pepper, 
tomato, and rosemary
Beef $10.00 | Lamb $11.00
(photo courtesy of Pamela Hundley)

There are a few amazing Ethiopian restaurants in Nashville, including Gojo Ethiopian Café and Goha Ethiopian Restaurant. I am well acquainted with the owners and love that they treat me like family. The above are my favorites.

Rules for eating Ethiopian food:
1. Wash your hands.
2. Injera is the staple bread and is used as your utensil. It is a flat, spongy, slightly sour bread (think giant crepe, made from teff flour and gluten free). Use small pieces to scoop up your food and enjoy. NOTE: Injera is also common to Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan and Yemen. My neighbors are Yemeni and call it “lahoh”.
3. You can ask for a fork, but it’s not as much fun.
4. You can order individual dishes or multiple people can join together and share sampler platters (my suggestion), that's the concept of Ethiopian food "sharing" - thus, wash your hands. Share your food and enjoy!
5. Wash your hands again (see a pattern here). They will smell like wonderful spices for days.

“Those who eat from the same plate will never betray each other.”
- Ethiopian Proverb