4720 East Main St
Columbus, OH 43213
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.
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.
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.
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.