The Ethiopian Diamond and I go way back. It was at this auditorium-sized restaurant that I had my first taste of Ethiopian food. I was a freshman in college; it was a year of many new experiences, but we’re sticking to Ethiopian food for the purposes of this blog. Like many things in my freshman life, the Diamond was decked out in Rasta colors. The paint job has changed since then, but the amazing food has not. Nor has the clientele. I still see the same group of Ethiopian men gathered around the large TV in the back. Usually, it’s tuned to soccer.
You may want to skip this paragraph if you’re an Ethiopian food aficionado. We’re about to begin our Ethiopian Food 101 lesson for readers who might be less familiar. Still with me? Comfortable? Here we go… adjusting glasses, clearing throat… Ethiopian food is characterized by the communal dining experience. All the food is served on one large plate and is accompanied by injera, which is spongy pancake-like bread that tastes a little bit like sourdough (more on this later). You use the injera to scoop up the food with your fingers. The food comes in the form of a stew (or that’s what the Diamond menu compares it too, though I think it’s thicker than what most people would consider stew-consistency) called watt or alicha. Watt is relatively spicy. Alicha is quite mild. Both are composed of chicken, beef, fish, lamb or vegetables. The vegetables vary widely because vegetarian eating is a significant component of Ethiopian cuisine.
When I visit Ethiopian Diamond, I order the Veggie Combo or the Vegetarian Taste of Ethiopia. Doing this saves me from having to choose just one of their eleven incredible vegetarian dishes. Here’s a little trick: if you convince your dining partner to share two Veggie Combos, you can pick six different dishes (three each). My Guy is more easily persuaded after a glass or two of their delicious honey wine.
Among my favorite vegetarian dishes: Yesimir Watt Spicy (spicy red lentils), Kik Alicha (yellow split peas), Gomen (collard greens) and Quosta (spinach).
I notice that almost every dish is “simmered with onion and garlic” and most utilize ginger in some way. Interestingly, onion, garlic and ginger are never the predominant tastes. The magic comes from the Ethiopian spices, though they’re never specifically identified on the menu. They have a unique flavor that you need to try for yourself.
Vegans, come hungry. All the vegetarian dishes are free of eggs, butter, milk and honey. Gluten intolerant? No problem.* The injera is made of teff (it’s fermented, hence the sour taste), a grain that is generally a-okay for people with celiac disase. Actually, teff is a rockstar grain. It’s high in fiber and contains iron, calcium and potassium.
So, a lot of what I’ve said in this post is true for most Ethiopian restaurants. What makes Ethiopian Diamond special is simply that their food tastes better than all the rest. And they have a huge selection. And their portions are large and satisfying. In fact, I had leftovers from our last visit. I’ve been looking forward to eating them all day. Unfortunately, somebody picked today to clean out the refrigerator** while I was working late. I’m not pointing fingers, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t our cats.
*This is a food blog, not a medical journal. If you’ve got gluten issues, you should trust someone who knows more than I do about it.
**Seriously, he’s never once cleaned out the fridge. Not until today. What a coinkydink.
I never thought I’d like Ethiopian food. Don’t ask me why. Let’s just say I grew up a picky eater. But we’ve gone to the Diamond enough that it’s one of our go-to spots. (That’s right, I called it the Diamond. It’s reached one-word status.)
I usually just go with whatever my beautiful Gal tells me I’m going to like, which means vegetarian. And even though she’s usually wrong about everything, like everything she just wrote above, she can pick out some good dishes.
The last time we went, this past week, I decided to try a meat dish. I had been scared off since the first time I had one of their meat dishes, the zilzil tibs. That beef dish came out stringy and dry. So I’d been staying away, which is a shame, because “zilzil” is just about the most fun word to say. Go ahead, say it…You’re smiling right now aren’t you?
Anyway, back to my point. I had the Yebeg Tibs Watt, a spicy lamb stew. It was delicious. The meat was tender and moist, the sauce a perfect accompaniment. I loved it.
Injera turns everything into fingerfood
Before I finish this post and continue with my helpful household chores, I need to say that I love the injera. It’s the tastiest thing. And I love not using utensils. I’m going to start using it for everything I eat–spaghetti, soup, pudding… If only I had known there was some in our refrigerator, but how could I? Gal had a half dozen leftover boxes in there. I wasn’t about to start sniffing around.