Category Archives: Ethiopian

Dukem

ethiopian restaurants columbus

Cuisine: Ethiopian/Eritrean
4720 East Main St
Columbus, OH 43213

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With eye-poppingly large dishes lined with injera bread and a finger food approach to eating, Ethiopian restaurants are an experience. Among the Ethiopian restaurants we’ve tried in town, Dukem is an experience.

This is, in no small part, due to its multi-functional nature – it’s a restaurant, a bar, a music venue, and a pool hall of sorts. In short, it’s an Ethiopian hang-out, and if our last visit is any indication, a popular one.

A quick digression on the pool hall element, as it’ll no doubt capture your attention upon visiting: there are two tables, neither of which have adequate space around them for what might be considered traditional pool playing (no stick room!). No worries, though – they tables were being used to play a game that appeared to be somewhat like bocce, and required only the use of the hands to launch balls close to others on the table. We’ve been told it’s called ‘billiardo’.

Another thing I’ve never felt compelled to mention before in a restaurant write-up is anything about anything related to the restrooms, but, as an interesting cultural observation, here I go: since Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands, you might find yourself waiting for awhile for the sink. As in, waiting while observing ‘the doctor is now fully prepped for surgery’ levels of hand hygiene from the people in front of you. As everyone tends to eat from one plate, it’s certainly the respectful thing to do for the group you’re eating with.

Having now dutifully washed my own hands, lets talk food.

“What are they having over there?” is one of our go-to questions of a server when trying a new place. In is instance, it was the Dukem Special – a mix of beef (we’d guess pieces of flank steak), peppers, onions and tomatoes served over tangy injera bread with sides of iceberg lettuce, hot sauce, and mustard. The injera-lined plate came out separate from the beef mix, which was sizzling in a pan and scooped atop the injera at the table.

ethiopian food columbus ohio

When ours came, all we could think was ‘fajitas’ – replace the injera with tortillas and the dish would be a dead ringer. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, as the beef was flavorful and had a nice char (though was cooked to the somewhat expected African level of ‘well done’) and the injera flavor is pleasant with the beef.

eritrean food columbus

We also tried the Awaze Kulwa/Tibs, which was another beef dish cooked in a spicy red sauce. While the last dish vibed Latino, this was pure Ethiopian/Eritrean through and through. Awaze is a paste based on Berbere chili/ spice mix. Very enjoyable, and consistent with what we’ve had at other Ethiopian restaurants around town.

A recommended dish to start with is the mahberawi combination plate which comes with a sample of several of vegetarian dishes, your choice of Kulwa/Tibs or Awaze/Kulwa Tibs and the usual ample supply of injera.

mahberawi

Final thought – while Dukem was very friendly and accommodating, it seems to exist as something of a refuge for it’s Ethiopian customer base from their day-to-day life of immersion in American culture. To go there is to be welcomed, but it felt, to me, as though we were ever-so-slightly disrupting an almost sweetly pure by-Ethiopian-for-Ethiopian environment. I wouldn’t let this dissuade you from going, but I’m tempted to suggest you proceed with some additional degree of sensitivity to your surroundings.

Blue Nile Restaurant

Cuisine: Ethiopian
CLOSED

2361 North High Street (Olde North Columbus / North OSU Campus)
614.421.2323
www.bluenilecolumbus.com

Open
Tuesday – Friday 11:30 am – 3:00 pm; 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Saturday 12:00 pm to 3:30 pm; 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 om to 3:00 pm; 5:00pm – 9:00 pm
Lunch Buffet (Tuesday to Sunday: 8 items and dessert, $8.99)

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As a city with a giant university in the middle, Columbus has always had some types of alt eateries to offer. However, the tipping point from the usual (Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian) to the unexpected can be traced back to 1995. Blue Nile was an Ethiopian Cafe that started on East Main Street by a car wash. Within a year it moved to the campus area to a place where the owner felt he could cater to a larger and broader group of diners. The eatery attracted a lot of press when it opened including a listing as a top ten best new restaurant in Columbus by the Grumpy Gourmet. As part of the story, a cab was sold to get the money needed to open the restaurant.

Blue Nile has survived changes in campus, Columbus and it’s competition to continue on as as a “gateway” alternative eatery. Countless OSU students have entered the world of international eating via the Blue Nile lunch buffet then they have come back for dates and nights out with visiting parents to show off their worldliness to mom and dad.

Some diners can gather around a tray (Mosseb) in a tradtional arragment of chairs and a small wicker tray table

Mequanent and Meaza Berihun are the owners. Both are gracious hosts with Mequanent likely to refer to you as “my friend” on first contact. The husband and wife team have years of experience as guides to first time Ethiopian cuisine eaters. They are happy to provide Ethiopian dining 101 lessons to new customers. It can be a bit intimidating since custom involves eating with your fingers. Injera bread (note: different spellings exist for this food) is a flat, spongy, tangy, crepe-like, flat bread made from teff (previously only available in Ethiopia), wheat and corn flour. Diners pull off strips of the bread to fold into a C with their fingers and then use it to grab and eat their food.

There are two main styles of spicing to the food: spicy – Berbere or mild – Alichas. The typical and best route to take for a first time dinner experience is to gather a few friends and share a platter. The menu offers Specials 1, 2 or 3 for one, two, three or four people. Each special offers a combination of four items from the menu – usually two meat based entrees and two vegetable based entries with varied spicing.

2 different specials for two shared on one tray

Typical items include: Doro Wat – chicken cooked with bebere sauce and served with hard-boiled eggs; Kitfo -minced beef with butter and hot pepper served with seasoned cheese; and Yatakilt Wat – fresh carrots, potatoes, string beans and peppers cooked in tumeric and others spices.

Other items on the menu worth sampling include Ethiopian honey wine and the sambusas (meat or vegetable filled pastries).

If you have a medium sized group with some “wary” eaters, this may be a good first bite into the world of alt eating.

Solay Bistro

Cuisine: Somali with Ethiopian and other influences

5786 Columbus Square (near intersection of SR 161/East Dublin-Granville Road Cleveland Avenue)
614.899.8800
Open: Monday-Thursday, 11am – 10pm, Friday 11am to 11pm, Saturday 9am to 11pm, Sunday 9am to 9pm
Breakfast from 9am to noon on Saturday and Sunday

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(Reader warning: There is a long lead in to the meat of the story.)

The aim of alt eats is to make connections. We want to connect you with new cultures, cuisines, areas of the city, and ultimately, the people behind the counter and in the kitchen. The stories of the people that make the food are often as important as the food they create.

Food has a way of bringing people together. Taco Drew met CMH Gourmand at a beer tasting via Columbus Underground. CMH Gourmand met Hungry Woolf at a North Market cooking class. The three of us went on to join Slow Food Columbus. Then we created Taco Trucks Columbus which introduced us to more people and places we would not have met any other way. It seems each person we meet or tweet with or e-mail, adds to the melting pot of alt eats with a restaurant lead, suggestion or feedback. Adding more people to the alt eats team has helped us spice up the content as well.

Food continues to connect us with new people. We met Abdi Roble from the Somali Documentary Project at a Social Media Conference. This prompted us to ask him to share a meal with us to help us better understand and appreciate Somali food and culture. We met with Abdi and his wife Fatima as well as Ismail, another acquaintance from the Somali Documentary Project for a meal. Fatima suggested a last minute change of venue which led us to the newly opened Solay Bistro.

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Lalibela

Cuisine: Ethiopian
1111 South Hamilton Road
614.235.5355

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You might, at first glance, take Lalibela for a Mexican cantina based on the exterior decor. Upon entering, pool tables and a large bar suggest little more than neighborhood watering hole.  Look (waaay) back to the right, though, and you’ll see a fairly large and ornately decorated dining area.  Beyond that lies a performance stage.

If the above, and the flyers at the entrance promoting DJs and musicians performing there, are any indication, Lalibela is something of a small entertainment hub geared towards our city’s Ethiopian population.

During lunch, though, it’s all about the food.  We settled on hot spicy lamb (lamb sauteed in jalapenos and spices) and quanta firfir (beef ‘jerky’ mixed with strips of injera in a sauce).

Every time we’ve had Ethiopian food, the presentation has never failed to impress.  Lalibela is no exception.  Both of our orders were served on a single large (probably close to 2′ in diameter) plate set within a covered woven basket.  The cover is removed (with a flourish) at the table by the server, and basket of injera strips is provided on the side.

A little bit about injera -it’s unusual stuff, and is an essential part of Ethiopian cuisine. It’s very thin, curious in its spongy texture and appearance, and is made from a flour/water mix that has been left to ferment so it has a sourdough-like tang to it. Injera is used as a ‘plate liner’ for most dishes (to sop up sauces from saucy foods above), in lieu of utensils (use strips of it to pinch food from the plate and bring it to the mouth), and is even occasionally mixed in with the dishes themselves (as with the quanta firfir).

The hot spicy lamb was pleasant enough – the lamb cubes were tasty (though perhaps a bit overdone), and the peppers, sauce, and onions rounded it out nicely.  Don’t take the name too seriously, though.  Our server went to great lengths to verify that we were OK with hot spicy food when we ordered this, but only the most meager hint of heat made it into the dish.

The quanta firfir was difficult to parse.  It seemed to have two different components from two different worlds.  The beef ‘jerky’, while conspicuously cured and dried, wasn’t especially tough (our server told us they cure and dry it in-house).  The flavor was spectacular – beefy, ‘woodsy’, nutty, and mushroom-like were just a few of the words used to describe it.  The injera and sauce, though, were puzzling as they seemed to almost cancel each other out, flavor-wise.

Another oddity was the tanginess of the injera provided on the side – it was far beyond that of any other injera we’ve tried.  Since you get some of it with each bite, this is more important than it might seem.  Perhaps we just got a bad batch?

Lalibela gets good buzz from the people we’ve talked with, and in spite of a few of the hiccups we encountered it’s easy to see why that might be.  At under $10/dish, it’s worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Vegetarians should be happy at Lalibela as there’s a significant meat-free offering.