My intellectual interest in trying new cuisines comes from seeing how regions make the best of their materials. Ethiopian cuisine, I discovered recently, is a delightful example of regional culinary ingenuity. Beyond the curiosity, I also just enjoy shaking up my comfort zone, and I don’t want my taste buds to get too comfortable. Old friends will attest to this not always being the case…. I did, in fact, used to have a very bland palate and an innate determination that I disliked most foods. My parents raised me in a strictly “American” cuisine household, where the only exceptions to the generic meat-and-potatoes rule was spaghetti, or *gasp* a stir fry. Anything else constituted “foreign food” and was not to be meddled with. Thankfully, time away with worldly friends brought me out of the shell I was raised in and out into the light of day, where I realized: I live by Washington D.C., where every cuisine imaginable is readily available!
Friends and I decided to try an Ethiopian restaurant, Etete, before a pub lecture (which in fact was sold out). I believe I was the only one in attendance with no Ethiopian cuisine experience. Stephen recommended a sampler we would like, and the rest is history. For anyone who might not know (as I didn’t know before the visit), the cuisine’s flagships are vegetable and meat dishes, primarily thick stews eaten with a cold, spongey flatbread. The samples I decided upon were primarily lentil or potato based as well as mild of spice. My lack of hearty spice tolerance prevented me from daring the mysterious “red potatoes”, as our table called them. I have to say that while I usually love my new foods, the spongey pancakes did nothing for me. By the end of the meal I was avoiding them, which is difficult to do since the sponges are supposed to be both your utensils and your side dish. If I could replace it with pita, the meal would have been perfect. The dish-of-the night, taking home the prize, was a kind of green lentil mash. What I neglected to notice before it was too late was a regional honey wine, and I must make a note to try that next time.
If Medieval Times taught me anything beyond cheesy equine-related insults, it’s that eating with one’s hands is great, and Ethiopian cuisine agrees!