On Friday night, I went out to dinner with two friends in DC. Dodge* and Boot** (nicknames, obv.) met me at Etete, an Ethiopian restaurant on U and 9th Street which stands out against other fluorescently lit storefronts on the street.
This was my first experience with Ethiopian culture and cuisine. I did have a friend in college who was Ethiopian, but he never cooked for me and I don’t think he’s your typical Ethiopian anyway. He’d always make dry comments about growing up eating only rice and running barefoot on dirt roads to the schoolhouse. I’m pretty sure they were sarcastic as he ended up going to a small, private Liberal Arts school in the middle of rural PA. So I doubt he grew up the way most Americans traditionally view the Ethiopian childhood, but one can never be sure. And I digress as all that’s beside the point…the point being, I enjoyed the food. A lot.
If you’ve never been to an Ethiopian restaurant before, you’re in for a bit of a culture shock. You’ve got to throw conventional eating etiquette out and get cozy with the idea that your right hand is your fork and your left, the knife (or vice versa if you’re a lefty-as is my case). After reading through the menu, we asked the advice of our waitress for what she’d recommend to order. She, being a transplant from the country, had a little trouble understanding our questions. But once we overcame the language hiccup, we figured out she wanted to know if we liked our food spicy. The three of us aren’t huge on extremely hot foods (i.e. Thai hot), but we decided we’d get at least one dish a little on the smoking side. Dodge also ordered a glass of tej, their honey wine. Ethiopians believe tej was the wine used for a toast between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. It’s extremely sweet, but is supposed to cut the food’s spicy edge pretty well.
Our food came out on a huge round platter. All together we chose 4 entrée’s and all were arranged on this one plate overtop of a special bread, injera. It looks kind of like a bubbled-stretchy crêpe and tastes slightly sour. You are to use it as the primary eating utensil, stretching it over your food and scooping it into your mouth. The sponginess of injera allows all the juices from the stews and meat to be sopped up. We were given an extra basket of the flatbread in which each individual piece was rolled like a napkin.
The waitress also brought out a plate with a whole fish on it (it was part of a veggie combo and only a dollar more!). I’m pretty sure the fish was rubbed with spices and then fried. Our faces were probably priceless as we eyed with calculated wariness how exactly to eat the fish. I broke off the tail and plucked what I think was the spine from the meat and cautiously took a bite. It tasted like fish…not quite sure what I expected it to taste like, but fish it was.
My first bite of one of the stews on our tray burnt my mouth with flavored heat. It stuck in that back niche in my throat. So naturally, I spasmed with suppressed coughs, trying to inconspicuously muffle the tickle out. When that didn’t work, I leaned to the side in favor of a more pleading cough (one that crosses between laughter and embarrassment). My eyes teared and my nose ran until I had slurped a sufficient enough amount of water to dislodge the offending spice from its comfortable nook. People quieted and stared. I reddened. Then the lights went out, literally. And everyone forgot about my hacking. We sat in candlelight for about 10 minutes before power came back on. But the lack of electricity didn’t keep us from munching away. When we finally sat back, we surveyed our progress. Our platter had been suitably demolished.
Boot commented, “Well, I guess we like Ethiopian.”
You’ll probably be seeing Dodge and Boots more in future posts. We’ve decided to make dinner nights a common occurrence, and have formed a sort of dinner club to try out different restaurants around DC. You know…so we aren’t like those people who constantly say oh I’ve heard of that place and always wanted to try it.
If you have any recommendations, let us know…also if you have any suggestions for our club name, we’ll take those too! Keep an eye out for their reviews as well…I’m going to let them guest post as we explore the various neighborhoods of DC cuisine. Our next outing is on Thursday for a night of fine Indian flavors and tastes at Rusika. I’ll let you all know how that goes.
Below is a list of what I think we ordered…I was able to find the menu online. Check it out if you’re in the area or mood for something a tad more obscure than Chipotle or The Olive Garden.
- Yefem Tibs:: (*Etete’s Special) Charcoal broiled sliced prime tender beef marinated in white wine and rosemary, with a touch of garlic and black pepper
- Special Etete’s Kitfo:: Minced meat seasoned with herbed butter and hot red pepper, served with special seasoned cottage cheese
- Fasteing Food:: Combination of veggie dishes with fish
- The veggie dishes were a mixture of: Yemisir Wat– Slit red lintel cooked in Ethiopian red pepper sauce, meten shiro, oil, onion sauteed together; Yeataklit Wat–Fresh green, carrot, potato, green pepper and onion sauteed with garlic, ginger and tomato and Gomen-Fresh green, carrot, potato, green pepper and onion sautéed with garlic, ginger and tomato.
*Dodge—so nicknamed because she works for a similar sounding department-of-government acronym and because occasionally…well, she’s just a bit dodge.
**Boot—she literally walks around with a boot on her foot. You may have seen her on the Metro. Her name may change when doctors say she can finally forgo the boot in favor of a regular shoe.
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