Mention Ethiopian food and the typical comment from the uninformed or the "We are the World" generation goes something like: "Well, what do they eat? Do you just stare at the table? Har, har, har."
Triling. Ethiopia (in the U.S. at least) may be more known for its famine than its food, but the Horn of Africa profers up tasty appetizers, impressive entrees and thick coffee that will set you a-jitter.
Indy is now home to two Ethiopian restaurants; the newest one being Major Restaurant on the West Side. It's not "major" because it's big but because the owner's last name is Major. Boho and I stopped in for lunch.
Can I have some context? Sure. Ethiopian food is most commonly a wat (thick stew) served on top of injera (pancake millet bread). No forks, no knifes -- all of the food, including the salad, is scooped up with injera.
Who could I take here? Anyone who is comfortable trying new food; a fan of ethnic foods; someone who is not afraid to eat with his or her hands. Ethiopian food might be a little awkward for a first date, but if you're feeling sloppy by your third date, go for it.
What we thought when we first walked in: What was this restaurant originally? An Old Country Buffet? It is pretty homey, with pictures of Ethiopia and Ethiopian children.
Our server was: Eden Major, who is also the hostess, owner and cook. Major is gracious and lovely, but she seemed surprised to see us. The restaurant is maybe 3 months old and business is a little slow.
Other patrons were: Carry-out. We did see a few gentlemen come in from their taxis to pick up a to-go order.
The service was: Pretty quick, considering Major is a one-woman band.
The food: For appetizers, Boho and I each ordered sambussa (think of it as a samosa, but spiced a little differently). His was meat, mine veggie, and both varieties would have made great hangover food as they were straight from the frier and quite hot.
For an entree, I chose the vegetarian shiro, a sampler of kik alicha (split peas), ye'abesha gomen (collard greens), mesir wat (red lentils) and cabbage, served on a large tray covered with injera. Boho ordered beg wat (lamb stew) which arrived bubbling in its own pot. Poured on top of the injera, the dish settled into a thick, meaty stew. Major is not stingy with injera, which is served, wrapped like cloth napkins, in a basket so you can grab extra as you chomp.
Insider's tip: Get the coffee. Major roasts it in the kitchen, brings it out for you to smell, then grinds it and turns it into a rich, dark brew, which is served with sugar, popcorn and incense on the side. This coffee "ceremony" costs you less than $5 (it can run y$20 at other venues).
Tally: With appetizers, entrees and coffee, we got out of Major Restaurant for $36 - including tip and complimentary wet naps.
How we felt an hour after we left: Fine and dandy, but full. Take care with injera as it seems to expand in the stomach. The more water you drink, the fuller you get -- sometimes painfully so.
Would we go back? Yes, and soon.