This is pretty much exactly what we ate. Plus some extra.

There is a little Ethiopian restaurant near our apartment that we first tried with my dad one night. And we loved it so much we had to go back tonight. Apparently I had the idea that Ethiopian sourdough bread ain’t that good. I was wrong! I screwed up and judged an entire culture’s cuisine based on some cold leftover home made food my mother’s Ethiopian friend gave her. It will never happen again.
We ordered beef tips stewed with vegetables, lentils in a spicy red sauce and lamb stewed in a Berbei sauce called Yebeg Wat. The food was served on a large round platter covered with thin, spongy, slightly sour Injera bread, soda bubbles riddling the surface. In four spots around the platter were the lentils, yellow cracked peas with curry sauce, cabbage and carrots, and spinach. The latter three we hadn’t ordered but they were delicious, going well with the flavors of the spicier meat. In the center of the platter the owner poured out the lamb and then the beef tips. These vegetables and stews, known as wats, are scooped up with bread and fingers (my sister’s preferred eating method).
The place is excellent, and what I think we liked even more than the lack of utensils is the fact that the proprietors and their friends were so surprised we wanted to eat there. “Sorry, we’re closed. Oh, you want Ethiopian food?”
(Uh, do you have any other kind here?)
“Sure! Sit down! We can do that.”
“You’re from around here?” Said with some interest, some surprise.
(Yeah, across the street. White people need cheap rent too.)
“How do you like it?”
“It’s so good!”
That part we say out loud. Because it really is. A little spicy but mostly just rich flavors, as though the beef and lamb have been marinating all day long. And the soft sourdough bread with the soda bubbles presents a fascinating base, so unlike bland rice at Indian and Chinese restaurants. And it was cheap. All three of us walked away stuffed on delicious lamb, beef, lentils, cabbage and cracked peas for $28.
It makes me want to find out what other hidden gems exist in our neighborhood. Restaurants visited exclusively by the immigrants from those countries, hoarding their delicious food and wondering what’s the big deal about the Golden Arches. We’re lucky to live in a part of the country that has so many ethnic groups offering their wares in unassuming strip malls spread out along the highways.

While eating, and mixing my spinach with tender lamb pieces I thought about the Korean food one of our house guests used to make. Beef and rice were rolled up in crunchy leaves of lettuce. The textures and flavors of the meat with the warm rice were so simple but so good together. But perhaps what makes it stick out so much in my memory is the mere act of eating this meal with others; eating from the same dish makes the whole experience one that draws you together. So many cultures reinforce this style of communal eating that I have to wonder what it offers, and what we are missing out on by dividing meals onto individual plates. Of course, in my family we’ve always been fans of sharing meals (you should see us devour a brownie sundae in minutes like sugar crazed piranhas), but this is a whole other way of experiencing the act of eating together. No longer do we spear a bite on a fork and demand, “Try this! It’s delicious!” Here we are all trying the same things, all reaching in together to try the same things and experience the same flavors, discussing them with enraptured gusto. I really like this way of sharing food with others.

Photo stolen from here, oddly enough: Bollywood Food Club
Names of foods learned here: Ethnic Eats