Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eating with my fingers - Ethiopian food

Last night my sweetie and I went to Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant here in Kansas City. I've had and enjoyed Ethiopian food before, so this was a treat. We had a groupon, given to us by my friend Priscilla, which gave us an appetizer and a sampler platter.

If you've never had Ethiopian food before, here are a few things you need to know.
  • Ethiopia is a land-locked Western African nation. It was a rich and turbulent history with many linguistic, cultural and religious influences. It's not a wealthy nation, so this influences the cuisine.
  • The cuisine consists of vegetable or legume stews and spicy meat dishes. It's common for meat dishes in tropical climates tobe quite spicy; this acts both as a preservative and to mask mild decay. These stews are served on a large platter, on top of a spongy flatbread called injera. It's often slightly sour tasting, since it's a natural sourdough.
  • You eat Ethiopian food by tearing off a bit of injera with your right hand (because in Ethiopia and other places the left is used for unclean functions) scooping up some of the stew and popping the morsel in your mouth. 
It's this last point that makes most Westerners hesitate. Eating with your hands from a communal plate? Isn't that unsanitary?! We are quite germaphobic, scared of any little possibility of infection, so this seems like a terrible risk. When you eat Ethiopian food you pretty quickly learn to pop the injera morsels into your mouth without touching lips, tongue or teeth. It's really no less sanitary than many of the ways we eat here, it's just more visible, since there are no utensils.

I love it. I love the sensual moment of feeling the bread, finding the right morsel, eating with my fingers as my ancestors did. It increases my awareness of what I'm eating and how precious it is. What's more, because this is a non-Western way to eat and one that seems riskier, it's something intimate. I'm sharing the plate with my beloved. 

Blue Nile is good. We started with a beef sambusa, a light pastry wrapped around spiced ground beef. The meat was fragrant with cumin and other spices while the pastry was very light and crisp. Frankly, this alone would be a good, light lunch, satisfying and tasty.

It was followed by a sampler platter (pictured above) which consisted of 8 veggie dishes and 3 meat; collards, lentils, potatoes and carrots, split peas, green beans and carrots, chickpeas, potatoes, chick pea dumplings, beef, lamb and chicken. It was an enormous amount of food, more than we could eat. Each dish was notably different from the others with its own texture and spicing. I thought the beef was the best of the veggie dishes while the collard greens and the chick peas were exemplary. Nothing wasn't good.

I recommend Blue Nile. I recommend eating with your fingers with people you love. I recommend pausing in the rush and feeling your food, as well as tasting it. I recommend savoring the moment.

20 E. 5th St.
Kansas City, MO
816.283.0990

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

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