While my family ordered large dishes filled with beef and chicken, I was quite happy with my colorful plate of split peas, red lentils, collard greens, and cabbage.
I was a bit skeptical when my gps signaled me to turn into what looked to be a strip mall. If it weren’t for all of the positive reviews and pictures of amazing food, I probably would have continued on my way, in turn, bypassing a great night of authentic, Ethiopian food.
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant had been on my radar for months. I can’t remember how I discovered it, but once I did I was just waiting for the opportunity to go. Thankfully, the opportunity presented itself during a recent holiday weekend.
Walking into the restaurant, I quickly noticed that the inside was much different than the busy and tourist-focused International Drive. The walls had beautiful pictures of Ethiopia. Not the cheesy kind that you buy from the flea market.
A beautiful woman with curly hair, similar to mine, greeted me at the door. The moment I saw her, I became more at ease and a wave of excitement came over me as her facial features communicated that this wasn’t only an authentic Ethiopian restaurant, but that it was also owned and operated by people from the country.
I started my dinner off with what review after review recommended: honey wine or tez. It came in what is called a Berele, which to me looked similar to something one would find in a chemistry lab, and was filled to the rim. The honey wine, which is a mix of honey and hops, was oh, so good. This, of course, was a bit of a problem for me because I had to literally stop myself from finishing the entire thing before my dinner arrived.
Let’s talk about my dinner! First, our lovely server brought a basket of injera to the table, which is a thick, sponge-like bread used somewhat as an eating utensil. So, instead of a fork or spoon, I used torn off pieces of injera to pick up the food from my plate. Then, the main course arrived! Its arrival had to be 10 times more dramatic than any other food arrival I had experienced before.
Instead of a plate of food, the server placed a beautifully-colored, tent-like basket in front of me, which I would later find out is called a mesob. In fact, there was a table filled with the baskets when we arrived. Before learning their true use and history, I just thought that it was very nice, well put together decoration. The server then opened the lid to reveal… MY FOOD!! I was so delighted and a bit overjoyed. It was so unexpected! Of course, I asked her to close it back up so I could grab a picture.
Here is what my first ever Ethiopian dinner consisted of (descriptions taken from menu): yellow split peas cooked with onions, garlic and green peppers; red lentils cooked with onions, garlic and red pepper sauce; collard greens cooked with onions, garlic and oil; and cabbage and carrots cooked with garlic and ginger. First off, who would ever believe that a dish of lentils, cabbage, split peas, and greens could not only be filling but amazingly flavorful at the same time? I will go ahead and raise my had on that one.
The Vegetarian Combo was delicious. Among the four different selections, I really enjoyed the red lentils the most. But honestly, the only thing left at the end was the layer of injera that covered the bottom of the plate. Everything was good.
The night ended with a traditional coffee ceremony, where a woman roasted coffee beans over an open flame then walked through the restaurant with the aromas of the beans wafting through the air.
I left that evening having tried amazing meat-free food, and experiencing a new culture, authentically.
Be sure to check out my pictures below for more on my Ethiopian food experience.