An Excursion to Ethiopia–Without Leaving Cary NC
When I received an invitation to go for an Ethiopia restaurant review at Awaze’s from Karen, the Cary Park Magazine publisher, I was instantly reminded of an episode I had seen on TV a week prior: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown—Ethiopia. Now I was given the opportunity to experience the only Ethiopian restaurant in Cary with Karen and a few others as a group. I’m beginning to believe, for the first time, that synchronicity is real and truly wonderful.
We arrived early and sat around a large pre-arranged table. This small group of reviewers couldn’t be more representative of the American people. We formed a table of diverse backgrounds from around the world: England, Thailand, China, and California; and somehow, we conversed as if we had known each other for years. Then, the appetizer showed up in front of me. I picked their spring rolls, being curious to find out what would make the Ethiopian rolls different. They looked similar to those in Chinese eateries, but biting into it gave me a whole new experience. They were much firmer overall, with a crusty outside and soft, creamier inside, and no crunchy vegetables like the Chinese spring rolls. They did their job right, setting up my palate for more.
My entree came to the rescue in time. I ordered a combination of key wot, doro wot, beef alecha—the three signature dishes all in one big plate, surrounded with injera, a traditional Ethiopian bread, the kind Anthony Bourdain stuffed it together with various meats in his mouth. Watching him feast, I never thought I could experience the same, and even more inconceivable, while in Cary. Without any knowledge of the delicate process in their kitchen, as I savored my food, however, the different colors of sauces started to make sense. The darker one with chicken in it was the spiciest but was impeccable when paired with the local beer, CBC Pale Ale. The medium-colored steak was just right in every way; I relished the tender meat wrapped with injera like a smooth sail on a calm sea. The lightest one offered some reprieves in between spicy bites. During our meal, we met the owners of the restaurant—the couple started off in America as Ethiopian refugees many years ago. We talked, laughed, took pictures, and showered them with praises. I felt as if I were literally in Ethiopia for a moment.
As the meal was coming to an end, the waitress asked if anyone would like a cup of coffee. Coffee in the evening was never my cup of tea, but I suddenly remembered a WSJ article I read mentioned Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee, the most popular beverage in the world for thousands of years. There was no way for me to pass it up. The waitress came out 10 minutes later with a smoky pan of roasting coffee beans. They use only fresh Ethiopian coffee beans with all the roasting, grinding, and brewing is done right before pouring into cups to preserve the genuine aroma to its fullest. One slow sip revealed a fuller, rounder, and well-balanced note with far more complexities than the 100% Columbian from the bag for my daily morning routine. This food review turned out to be a full-blown excursion reaching its peak at the end. The distinctive savors lingered on my tongue for hours after I left, and the experience, for days on my mind.