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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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