I am not here to tell you what to eat, and how to eat it. I am here to show you the magical and extremely delicious world of Ethiopian food, which the majority of people haven’t tried. I know, how dare they?! However, here we don’t judge each other, but rather, we help and enlighten our minds and–more importantly–our palate.

I know that trying a new cuisine could be super intimidating and confusing, from finding the location of the place you are going to, to navigating yourself through where the appetizers and normal meals are ('cause who orders appetizers?!), to actually understanding what the names of the dishes and ingredients mean.

I totally feel you! This was me when I first went into an Ethiopian restaurant. Even though the servers were nice enough to explain their menu to me as I was a complete idiot, it would have been so much better if I had stepped into this restaurant with confidence and some knowledge of Ethiopian food and culture.

To ensure that you don't embarrass yourself as I did, here we will examine different Ethiopian meals based on my experience at restaurants in New York City.

So, let’s start with something without which you cannot eat Ethiopian food: injera. This is a flatbread made from teff, which... wait for it... is a type of grass, not a grain! 

I know, how awesome is that?! It’s fermented with water for a few days before being baked. Injera is big in radius, has the texture of a crepe, but has a sour taste. This is probably one of the healthiest “breads” in the universe.

The Eats

My very first experience with Ethiopian cuisine was at a restaurant called Awash.

salad, wine
Nona Bankova

So let’s examine the different toppings clockwise:

1. Tibs Watbeef cooked in special Berbere sauce (very typical for Ethopians. They cook everything in this sauce, and honestly, you should too).

2. Key Sir Alichabeets, carrots, and potatoes cooked to extreme juiciness. These veggies' natural sweetness complements the sourness of the injera perfectly.

3. Gomencollard greens cooked with onions, garlic, and ginger. Maybe it doesn’t look so appetizing to you because greens? Ew! But it goes so well with the rest of the food.

4. Yater Kik Alichayellow split peas cooked with onions, herbs, and peppers. They are so light and creamy–super rich in texture and flavor.

5. Doro Watyou remember the Berbere sauce from above, right? Here, it is the guest star again, this time adding taste and flavor to delicious chicken cubes (in the middle of the plate).

Another Ethiopian food experience of mine was in Abyssinia: a small restaurant in Harlem.

Nona Bankova

1. On the top you see the yellow split lentils again.

2. Can you recognize the topping right next to it? Yes, this is gomen.

3. Doro Tibsboneless chicken breast marinated with garlic, ginger, and other spices.

4. Tikil Gomencabbage cooked with potato, carrot, onion, peppers, and garlic.

5. Ye Misir Wotsplit red lentils cooked in berbere sauce.

6. Split yellow lentils.

7. Fossoliastring beans and carrots cooked and seasoned in spicy garlic sauce.

8. Shiroground mildly spiced chickpeas cooked with chopped onion.

9. Tikil Gomen again.

10. Ye Siga Alichabeef stew seasoned with curry, onions, and peppers.

In addition to all these beautiful dishes, you are served plenty of rolled injera on the side.

How to Dig In

1. Take some of the injera.

2. Take some of the food on the big plate with the injera.

3. Put everything in your mouth without caring about making a mess and ruining your new white shirt.

Again, I am not here to tell you what to eat and how to eat it.

However, Ethiopian food is amazing, and everybody has to try it at least once! Even if you don’t like vegetables or meat (what DO YOU like then?! Sorry, still working on not being judgmental), it’s a wonderful food experience, a way to share your food with friends, to laugh and mess up together.

P.S. I think it’s perfect for a first date. If you can get messy in front of each other and laugh about it, you are meant to be.