On my last trip to Los Angeles, I kept passing by an Ethiopian restaurant and mentioned to my friend that I wanted to stop in for lunch before I left. She made a face that made me laugh and said, “I’m not eating any antelope or whatever they eat there with you”. I raised my eyebrow and she added, “okay, okay, I know that’s probably ignorant, but that’s what I think of when I hear about Ethiopian food”. Upon which I informed her that not only would there be no antelope or any other exotic animal on the menu but that she could very likely find a whole array of vegetarian dishes to suit her current dining preference.
After mulling it over for awhile and deciding that she was probably be ridiculous about her assumptions of African cuisine, she agreed to go get Ethiopian food with me. “We should probably go to Little Ethiopia then,” she added. It had completely escaped my travel knowledge that there is an entire neighborhood in Los Angeles called Little Ethiopia, a place where there are restaurants as well as other types of stores selling African clothing and household items.
My favorite part of Ethiopian cuisine is the bread that comes with the meal. It’s called Injera and it comes with every Ethiopian meal. In fact, the main dish or dishes that you’ll order at an Ethiopian restaurant will come served on top of this bread. You can tear off pieces of the Injera and use them in place of silverware to pick up the entrée food and eat it. The sauces of the dishes are easily soaked up by the sponge-like bread, a bread that is something of a cross between a pancake and a crepe but with a bit more flavor.
Flavor is something that you’ll find a lot in Ethiopian food whether you opt for vegetarian dishes or something that is meat-based. That’s because the food is spiced, often with spices that you wouldn’t normally find in other food in America. There are many chili-based spices such as berbere which is a red chili regularly used to spice the thick African stews. However there are also sweet spices like irgo which is a yogurt-like spice used to add cooling flavor to some dishes. The spices used in Ethiopian cooking may take a little bit of adjusting for the American palette, but they are what make eating the food an authentic experience.
Ethiopian food, as with many other types of African cuisine, is served family style. Take a big group of people to a place like Little Ethiopia and order a number of different dishes so that you can get the full experience of tastes that are offered by the restaurant. Seated in a circle with your friends, you can enjoy good conversation while reaching into the middle of the table to indulge in the food that you are sharing. It brings a communal kind of lifestyle back to the meal and makes it a pleasant experience for your social life, not just your taste buds.
As for the drinks that will go with your meal, most Ethiopian restaurants serve a combination of traditional and modern drinks. Order Tej, an Ethiopian honey wine, if you are old enough to drink and want to enjoy the traditional Ethiopian dinner in full. Enjoy Ethiopian coffee when the meal is done. Or select your favorite soft drink or iced tea to compliment your Ethiopian dinner. The point of the meal is more the food and the company than the drinks anyway!