Hello and welcome to International Foods of NYC! New York City is an ethnic and cultural microcosm of the world around it and is one of the culinary capitals of the world. One can find nearly any kind of food walking the bustling streets. These international foods are just as quintessentially “New York” as a pastrami sandwich or bagel and lox. I decided to start this blog with a completely new type of cuisine that I had yet to try. I headed to down to Ethiopian restaurant Injera in the West Village, where the ambiance is relaxed, yet cheerful and the service is very attentive. It feels as if you are eating in someone’s home. The servers appear to be the owners and they care that you enjoy and eat the food properly.
Ethiopian food not only tastes delicious, but there is a ceremony to ripping the bread, scooping the sauce and quickly, without letting any sauce fall, putting the satisfying and flavorful bite into your mouth. This is the meal that you get to eat with your fingers without your parents scolding you. To start the meal off, we ordered meat sambussa, which is a triangle-shaped, meat-filled pastry. It came to the table very hot and freshly fried with a cooling yogurt sauce on the side. Juice spilled out with the first bite and immediately my taste buds were in heaven. It had the perfect crunch and oil-to-spice ratio.
As a main course we ordered a combination of the meat, chicken, and vegetable dishes to try as much variety as possible. This is where the meal becomes fun. All of the food is served on top of a large flatly laid out piece of injera, Ethiopian bread. The injera is moist and airy. Its texture is a cross between a crepe and crumpet. It does have a sour taste from its fermentation process that takes a little getting used to. At first, this taste threw me off, however, it compliments and balances out the heavy berbere flavor that is in many of the dishes. As I tasted each of the dishes, I noticed a similar taste in the ones that were usually a dark-brown color. Each of them contained berbere, which is a mixture of spices including garlic, chili pepper, basil, ginger, and other spices local to Ethiopia. It has a hot, even smoky, sort of taste, which is delicious, but overwhelming after a few bites. There were also dishes with lighter flavors, usually grilled meat or chicken in a sauce of sautéed tomatoes and onions. Most of the vegetable dishes did not contain berbere. I really liked the beet and cabbage dishes, which were both sweet, cooked with onions and garlic. The one dish I did not like was the blended split pea. There was an off-putting, almost marzipan-like flavor to it which I cannot quite pin down. It was the only dish I chose not to have another bite of.
The meal was concluded with a chocolate crème brûlée and Ethiopian tea. The crème brulee was light and creamy, but definitely not essential to the meal. If you are full, as we were, there is no need to finish with the crème brûlée. It does include a pepper-flavor in the sugar crust that comes in the aftertaste, which differentiates it from other crème brûlées. The Ethiopian tea is definitely worth ordering. It is a light herbal tea that really helps to settle all the flavors consumed earlier in the meal.
One warning, Ethiopian is food is best eaten at the restaurant. I brought home left overs, which I heated up the next day. It was a messy process. The injera underneath the food had become soggy and completely broke apart so everything was mixed together. Instead of enjoying each dish, there was one mélange of everything that was too spicy to be enjoyed.
The flavors are definitely unique to Ethiopian food. They are strong and it is possible that there are people who may not like it, but it is definitely worth a try. Both the food and the experience at Injera are worth the trip to the West Village. It was a treat to sit down for an Ethiopian meal and I plan to do it again.