Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Culinary Trip to Ethiopia

Last night a few friends and I checked out "Beijing's first Ethiopian restaurant" as it proudly says on its signage.

Ras Ethiopian Cuisine is a hard place to find, making the trip there either frustrating or adventurous.

While it's relatively close to where I live, on Jiangtai Lu off of Jiuxianqiao, it's not an area that gets a lot of foot traffic let alone much exposure on a main street.

Nevertheless, once you get there, you feel like you've entered a cozy atmosphere that's warm and exotic, inviting you to chill out and absorb the smells, tastes, sounds and sights of Ethiopia -- or at least the overseas version.

The first time I tried Ethiopian food was in Toronto. We didn't really know what we were doing when a giant flat pancake the size of a monster truck wheel was served at our table with various sauces all over it. And being told we had to eat with our hands was a bit of a shock.

In the end the four of us hardly made much of a dent in the injera, or pancake made from a nutritional grain called teff, and we walked out wondering what we had just eaten.

However this time things were less unwieldy.

Inside the relatively small restaurant were the typical tables, but also wooden stools around a straw-woven circular table that's like a giant platter called a mesob. There's also a stage and colorful umbrellas hung from the ceiling.

To start off we had sampussas, thin baked pastry dough filled with either lentils and onions, or minced beef and wrapped like triangles.

And as we ate these appetizers, two dancers, a man and a woman came out and started performing in front of us, dancing to the music with energetic steps. They would come on stage periodically through the evening with grander costumes than the last and more frenetic dancing too.

This time the injera we had featured a variety of sauces, from chick pea, beets and lentil, to spiced lamb, and diced collard greens, split pea and beef curry.

The pancake wasn't as large as the one I had before, but a manageable size for at least three people with diced tomatoes in the middle. The waitress then took each small ceramic bowl and put half of the sauce on one side of the injera, the rest on the other, doing that for each sauce we ordered.

Then she gave us each rolls of the pancake that sort of looked like toilet paper! But we would unravel a portion, rip it off and use it to grab or mop up the sauces either separately or together.

Once our rolled up portions were done, we continued eating the injera on the platter until everything was cleaned up. Very communal and environmentally friendly.

We even ate another serving of it, but towards the end we were getting stuffed and the five of us just barely finished it.

The owner came by and told us Ras, which means "king" or "head" has been around for a year and he's looking to move the restaurant to Sanlitun which would be a good choice. That area has so many different cuisines featured there that Ras would fit right in.

If only they could give us the pre-packaged wet towels instead of actual wet towels before we literally dug into the food, that would be even better.

Ras Ethiopian Cuisine
14 Jiangtai Lu
Chaoyang District
8479 8388

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do they have Chinese wait-staff? If someone needed to call for directions, would they give them in Chinese or English.
This is so great. Ethiopian is one of our favorite cuisines. My husband and I used to say that one thing we really missed about China is that there are no Ethiopian restaurants.