Why I love taking new people to Ethiopian places

Mesob - Nashville - June 2015

Photo: Myself with a large group of friends and acquaintances enjoying various dishes piled with Ethiopian deliciousness after the Inclusive Astronomy 2015 conference at Vanderbilt University. Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant, 1310 Antioch Pike, Nashville, Tennessee, June 2015.

There’s just something about sharing good food with friends (and other people who aren’t categorizable as “friends” but are still somehow going out to eat with you). I love taking new people for Ethiopian food for a whole host of reasons.

Firstly, it’s probably my favorite kind of food, and I love sharing good things with other people, so I’m going to share it with as many people as possible.

Secondly, I love going out to eat with other people. There’s a certain joy in going out by myself, and sometimes, that’s the best option or the only option. But enjoying something in blissful solitude just can’t compare to this something about enjoying things in groups. So if I’m going to be going out to dinner, I might as well attempt to talk everyone under the sun into going with me!

Thirdly, Ethiopian food is meant for sharing. Traditionally, the food is served on large platters set atop a mesob, which is a purpose-woven basket/plate-holder with a nice hollowed out space in the middle for your platter. Everyone’s food is piled in different little piles on the platter (which is supposed to have a large piece — or several — of injera spread out for the food to be laid upon), and you’re expected to reach over and around, offer bites to each other, and generally spread the goodness. So you can go by yourself, but it’s infinitely more fun and fulfilling with friends. (Besides, there’s almost certainly no way in hell you’re going to be able to finish off the entire dish yourself, so why not?)

Finally, I love Ethiopian food because its very nature means virtually anyone can eat it. As a disabled activist, most of the people I know have some kind of dietary restrictions or are otherwise opting for specific dietary choices — whether they are vegan or vegetarian or pescatarian, are gluten-free by choice or by way of having Celiac’s, have texture aversions by way of being autistic, are lactose or lactaid intolerant, keep kosher or halal or do not eat beef, cannot stand spicy food or have an intense sensory seeking desire for spiciness, etc. etc. etc. A few years of begging, pleading, whining, and finally convincing most people I know to go with me at some point haven’t yet turned up anyone who hasn’t been able to eat something in an Ethiopian restaurant.

Made traditionally (and correctly), the injera flatbread has no wheat in it, only teff — the world’s smallest grain — which means any dishes ordered from a restaurant that either (1) serves only all-teff injera or (2) offers all-teff injera as an option will automatically be gluten-free.

Also, huge plus, you eat your food with the injera, so if you’re not playing with your food, you’re doing it wrong. (Translation: If you have motor difficulties, everyone else will also be epicly failing at eating their food. Also, if you have kids who are messy eaters, they won’t stand out from the adults who are also making giant messes.)

Other than ayib (the cottage cheese like dish), every vegetarian dish on an Ethiopian menu is typically also vegan, since recipes usually use niter kibbeh (clarified butter, sort of like Indo-Pakistani ghee), which means that both vegetarians and vegans will have an abundance of safe (and quite delectable!) options.

For the carnivores of the world, many Ethiopian meat dishes translate into heaping piles of meat — whether you’re brave enough to try the kitfo (delicately spiced ground beef) or gored gored (juicy chunks of beef) made properly raw, or opt instead for the unofficial national dish of doro wat (incredibly spicy chicken stew with hardboiled egg) or the classic yesiga or yebeg tibs (cubed beef or lamb respectively).

And of course, the spiciness level overall ranges from dishes meant to be totally mild (anything in an alicha sauce, for instance) to dishes meant to be holyshitspicy (like anything in awaze sauce with added mitmita on top).

Essentially, there are about a million and one reasons to try Ethiopian. You won’t regret it. Promise.

(And I will eventually add a glossary, hopefully with pictures, to this blog.)

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