Let Them Eat Injera
by Shana Aborn
When my boyfriend and I were still in the early stages of dating, a friend
invited us to check out an Ethiopian restaurant with her. Neither of us knew
that such a cuisine existed, much less what it tasted like, but after grinning
nervously and making a couple of obligatory bread-and-water jokes, John
said, "Sure, why not?"
X number of years later, John was promoted from boyfriend to husband,
and we still wonder how our tastebuds ever survived without tibs wot for
so long. And it occurred to me that an evening at an Ethiopian restaurant
would be a terrific first date. You can learn a lot about someone just from
one exotic meal.
Think about it. If your date says, "Great! I've always wanted to
try African food," then you can feel pretty confident that s/he's the
type who's not daunted by new experiences. If the answer is, "Bleah
-- sounds too weird for me," then odds are s/he's conservative in other
areas as well. Then there's the food itself. For the uninitiated, Ethiopian
fare is mainly stews of beef, chicken, fish or vegetables, simmered slowly
in spicy sauces with degrees of heat varying from yummily tongue-tingling
to call-the-guys-with-the-dalmatians. So someone who immediately orders
the hottest thing on the menu is either really anxious to impress you or
else a person who doesn't like to be bored for too long.
Then there's the issue of neatness. Our Nile neighbors eat their meals
with thin, crepe-like bread called injera: tear off a piece, wrap it around
a chunk of something and pop it into your mouth. Utensils are usually served
only on request. So the whole issue of worrying about wowing your date with
neatness, delicacy and good table manners is solved right there, because
both of you are going to wind up licking your fingers like five-year-olds
at a birthday party, not to mention dabbing the berbere sauce from your
Dockers. If your date is a good sport who can find the humor in just about
any situation, she'll laugh at her well-used napkin and reach for another
bite. And if your date looks even more gorgeous and charming to you as she
attempts to stuff a dripping piece of bread between her lips, then you might
just have yourself a winner.
My so-far favorite Ethiopian haunt in New York is the Blue Nile
(103 W. 77th), but I've heard good things about Ghenet, too (284
Mulberry Street). Fortunately for non-New Yorkers, the cuisine has caught
on in many other major cities (Washington, DC, has a ton of them, especially
in the Adams-Morgan area, but you can also find your tibs wot, shuro wot,
kitfo and atakilt in Seattle, Houston, Detroit, Boston and California, to
name a few). Now go make a mess. For two.
Shana Aborn, a NYC-based writer and editor, is working on her first
book and is getting hungry for Ethiopian red lentils even as we speak.
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