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hTownDude's avatar

Ethiopian food for the first time. Where to start?

Asked by hTownDude (178points) February 14th, 2009

Much like when introducing someone to sushi for the first time and recommending something simple like a california roll or tuna roll, what are the most “accessible” ethiopian dishes for a first timer to order and get the best idea of ethiopian cuisine?

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11 Answers

poofandmook's avatar

Most Ethiopian places have an awesomely big sampler platter with a little of everything. Every place I’ve been to has had it.

I say this because I don’t know what anything is called, since we always get the sampler platter. I know that I become addicted to the bread, and I love the stuff that looks like thick creamed corn, and the non-spicy beef and chicken stuff. That’s all I know to call it. LOL

laureth's avatar

The Ethiopian place in town only really has two choices: vegetarian and not-vegetarian. Take your pick. What is served up is a pile of tasty spongy rolled-up flatbreads and a platter full of small dishes of… many things (with or without meat). There are things like savory vegetables, grilled meats, stewed chicken, spicy potatoes, lentils. There is no silverware, you just tear off a piece of the bread and scoop up a bite. So there really aren’t a lot of choices to make, you just enjoy a little of everything.

What I would recommend, though, is the tea. I don’t know if it’s common to all Ethiopean restaurants, but the one near me serves a kind of cinnamon tea that is maybe the best non-alcoholic drink I’ve ever had! Definitely get the tea.

poofandmook's avatar

@laureth: I’m beginning to wonder if any Ethiopian place has a menu with dishes on it. Everyone I know says the same thing… giant platter, lots of dishes. I haven’t been in so long though, that I don’t remember.

forestGeek's avatar

I’m vegetarian, so I always get whatever vegetarian sampler plate they have and it’s always spectacular!! Love everything on the plate, but don’t know what any of it is called. The only name I remember from the menu is the appetizer called Sambusas which I’d recommend for sure.

Darwin's avatar

The bread is called injera and it serves as both plate and utensil (you tear off bits to scoop up food). Wat is stew, Tibs is sauteed meat or vegetables, Kitfo is an Ethiopian steak tartar, and Gored Gored is a similar thing but the meat is cubed instead of ground. Ethiopians don’t eat pork so your meat choices will most likely be chicken, goat or lamb and some beef.

As with any new cuisine a sampler plate is a great idea as long as you get someone to tell you the names of the things you like so you can get them again.

A tip: True Ethiopian restaurants would expect you to eat without utensils. If you do, only use your right hand. Using the left hand for eating will gross out every Ethiopian in the place.

KrystaElyse's avatar

I would love to try Ethiopian food as well. I need to see if they have any restaurants in my area. It all sounds delicious!

peedub's avatar

I eat meat but actually prefer the vegetarian options. Try the tej (honey wine).

wundayatta's avatar

It’s generally pretty easy to understand Ethiopian food if you know a few things. As others have mentioned, the food will be served on a platter covered with injera, a spongy bread. There will be one platter for the entire party. The dishes you’ve ordered will each have a spot on top of the injera.

You will also be given personal pieces of injera. This takes the place of western utensils. You tear off a piece and use it to pick up a part of one of the dishes on the platter. Yes, use your right hand, although most Eritrean restaurants in this country know that Americans wash their hands regularly, and so it is sanitary to eat with your left hand.

They serve all kinds of meat and vegetables, except pork. Beef (tibs), chicken (doro), and shrimp are most commonly found, but goat, lamb (yebeg) and minced meats and other meats are found, as well. The primary vegetable is lentils, and that’s probably the only food most people in the region eat. You’ll find cabbage, collard greens, chick peas, tomatoes, cauliflour and other vegies, as well. One good dish at the restaurant I eat at is mushrooms (Yeungodai).

There are two major ways the food is prepared, and several other ways, as well. The major ways are watt (really, really hot, if it’s authentic), and alicha (mild). There are various other styles, but you will usually see explanations of each style in English.

The key is knowing that Watt is hot and alicha is not. Also, if you are prepared to eat with your hands, you’ll do fine. If you order hot food, beer is a good drink to go with it. You should probably get one dish per person less one, and make sure you cover all the bases you are interested in. We usually get a mild chicken dish (which comes with a hardboiled egg), a spicy shrimp dish, and a vegie dish, usually lentils and sometimes spicey mushrooms. There will be lentils and other sides as well that appear on the platter.

If you have kids who like eating with their hands, it’s a great place to go. They might not like foreign food (get mild dishes) but they’ll be tickled pink that they have to eat with their hands. Have fun!

mcbealer's avatar

The injera is usually a big hit with first timers.

No geo-info on your profile, but if you’re ever in the Washington DC area, check out Meskerem in Adams Morgan.

wundayatta's avatar

There’s a Meskerem in Philly, too, but it’s not that great. Dahlak is decent, though. All in all, if I wanted really good Ethiopian, I’d go to D.C.

Strauss's avatar

There’s an excellent Ethiopian restaurant in Denver called Bataam Fez or something like that. I know where it is, that’s more important than knowing the name. It echoes all of the answers from above, plus there is a performance when the tea is served that includes balancing the glass on a patron’s head. Very entertaining!

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