Dining: Veggie goes to Ethiopia

As a vegetarian, exotic cuisines have always been a great source for interesting dishes.

dining review vegetarian (photo credit: Courtesy)
dining review vegetarian
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As a vegetarian, exotic cuisines have always been a great source for interesting dishes. For example, if I desire to eat at a restaurant that offers more than two veggie dishes and is not Italian, then Indian food is a great choice. But, there is a limit to how many aloo gobis one person can eat. So, I turned to a new source: Ethiopia. I recently went to Habash, an Ethiopian restaurant located in the ever so depressing area of the Opera Tower on Tel Aviv's promenade. This was my first time at an Ethiopian restaurant, though I have eaten Ethiopian food in the past and loved it. But, more than the food, I loved the atmosphere. In the past, I've worked as a guide in a hostel and, as such, was invited into the homes of different Ethiopian families. The visits were never short. Food was served, drinks were poured and the injera in ample supply. It always amazed me, the ever-present bowl of dough, waiting to be made into the Ethiopian version Yemenite lahuh. Of course, I might be stereotyping. There might be some Ethiopian families who eat mainly hamburgers and fries and rarely consider purchasing the unique teff flour used in making injera. Yet, I believe that is the case with the younger generation. For that reason, according to Yitzhak, Habash's manager, the restaurant was established. "The younger generation must remember its roots. And, the Israeli people should know of our traditions," he said. The menu includes nothing but Ethiopian food. You forget the ugly area outside as you enter the restaurant. The place is designed like a big hut. As E, my dining partner, described it, the atmosphere's like "entering the dining room of the old temple." To that end, the main design flaw is the plasma screen showing Ethiopian singers and decidedly ruining the temple vibe. E and I are both vegetarians, so we ordered the vegetarian mix: four different legumes in different spices and one vegetable dish. All was served on one big injera with an extra four on the side. No forks of course and we dug in, wiping the different dishes away with our delicious sour flat breads - after all, when in Rome. The food was tasty and seemingly healthy. A couple dishes weren't too spicy, a good thing apropos the spicy dishes, which were spicy as hell. Though, it's a different kind of spicy than the familiar Yemenite schug or Tabasco. For example, Ethiopian spice does not burn the tongue but causes a kind of itching sensation on the upper palate. Luckily, I had half a Goldstar to wash away the pain - but then again, what else is Goldstar for? (Word to the wise: spicy should be countered with alcohol, which dissolves the sensation as opposed to water, which just spreads the pain around.) Oh yes, the injera worked well towards this aim. Sadly, that dish concluded our meal. We devoured the last remaining injera on which the meal was served and was consequently soaked in the different sauces. There are many meat dishes but, as I mentioned, neither of us go that way. There was no dessert either but, in typical Ethiopian politeness and desire to please, Yitzhak offered to make us some bread with honey. A generous offer, though we declined. Instead, we grabbed some frozen yogurt at a nearby ice cream parlor. Which reminds me, don't put banana in a frozen yogurt. It just ruins all the flavors. Habas, 2 Allenby St., Tel Aviv, (077) 210-0181. Open from Sunday to Thursday from noon till the last customer and Friday from noon till an hour before the Jewish Sabbath; kosher.