November 29, 2014

Lalibela is best enjoyed with friends. And if you're having trouble finding friends to go here, let me know, as I'm always up for a visit. My recommendation is to order several items and do a round robin sort of roulette dinner, rotating periodically until everyone is able to sample everything on the table.

But first thing's first... no utensils. That job is readily tackled by Injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread with a spongy texture. Traditionally made out of teff flour, it is a national dish in Ethiopia. And if just that description sounds off-putting then maybe this isn't the restaurant for you? But I always advocate trying something at least once before discounting it. And if you have any friends trying to avoid gluten, let them know they're safe here, as I understand teff to be one of the gluten-free grains. (Which is a good thing, because there's plenty of injera to be had here)!

You can also bring your vegetarian friends, as their Vegetarian Platter is to die for.

For some reason I feel like serving me a heaping pile of bread is a personal challenge (one I'm happy to accept). The meals are plated on top of injera, and baskets of the stuff are also served on the side, typically one per dish.

I don't think I've tried everything on the menu yet, but the Vegetarian Plate is always a good choice, with several varieties of lentils, greens, and cabbage. Combination plate with doro wot and cheese is another good way to get a thorough sampling of the flavors and to ease yourself into.

The process goes down pretty much like this... You just grab some injera, tear off a piece, and use it to pick up some food, then stuff the food in your mouth. There's not a lot of grace to it, but I suppose it does take some practice.

Most of the meats are small enough to pick up easily in a single handful, and those that aren't can easily be dismantled with fingers.

As for the food, mixing is allowed. And there is no particular order to the meal. Eat whatever, whenever and have a good time. We don't tend to enforce the feeding each-other rule shown in the video, though that could make for some fun dining too.

For those of you unconvinced, check out this video primer:

Here's my rundown of some favorites - which it turns out is most of the menu.

Combination Plate: A variety of meat and vegetarian dishes including tibs, doro wot, salad, cabbage, cheese and lentils. Great place to start if this is your first foray into Ethiopian.

Combination Plate
Vegetarian Platter: A combination of salad, cabbage, lentils and cheese.

Vegetarian Platter
Kuanta Fir Fir: Beef sauteed in spices, butter and onion, mixed with pieces of injera.

Kuanta Fir Fir
Key Wot: A spicy beef stew prepared with a clarified butter sauce, cheese on the side.

Key Wot
Gored Gored: Lean beef mixed with spicy butter sauce and a paste of hot peppers with garlic, ginger and spices.
Gored Gored
Zil Zil: Stir fried beef strips, onions and peppers.

Zil Zil
Ethiopian Coffee: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Strong and delicious.

Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopian Spiced Tea: I think this used to be complimentary, but now they charge for it. You can probably blame me for this since I like to drink 2-3 cups... or, in other words, as many as they'll bring me. It's spiced, it's sweet, it's so good I'll even order tea in the summer.
Injera: The star of the show in more ways than one. Injera serves as plate, utensil and meal all in one. They'll always bring a basket per entree, so don't feel compelled to sacrifice your platter bread at first. Then, after you've eaten your fill you can roll up all the leftovers for later.
And that, my friends, is how you over-eat. Sharing an entrée is probably your best bet to leave in a comfortable state of affairs.

Lalibelia does not have a liquor license, so if you're feeling like a brew you'll have to go elsewhere. What they do have is bottled water, Ethopian coffee, and some wonderfully sweet spiced tea (see above).

Service is very friendly, but don't expect a detailed menu primer or rundown on what all the items are. You need to tap your sense of adventure here a bit.  The restaurant is warm and inviting, decorations made it feel cozy, and the food is fantastic. Bring on the injera!

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