Aug 6, 2009

Challenge # 6 : Eat Ethiopian Food

I drive by Gojo on my way to work everyday. I've been meaning to try the restaurant for over a year now but Ethiopian food doesn't exactly come to mind when I'm craving something good and familiar. The first and only time I had Ethiopian cuisine was in Chicago; back when I still had use for hair gel and hair dryers. Needless to say, it's been awhile. So as part of my Month of Living Challenge for August, I invited my good friend and squash partner, Don MacKenzie, to join in the experiment.

Gojo is located in a brick strip mall occupied by small businesses and a popular breakfast joint in Eastown, about 2 miles SE of downtown Grand Rapids. The restaurant is simply decorated with palm fronds resembling thatch huts or Go Jo in Ethiopian and tables with painted bamboo bases made of metal drums - something I didn't notice until Don pointed it out.

The personable husband and wife team of Sam and Sharon Terfa share duties on the restaurant floor and open kitchen. Having shared with Sam "our challenge," he kindly walked us through Gojo's menu, specifically pointing out the items on the buffet.

Injerra is the Ethiopian equivalent of naan bread. It is made of teff, wheat flour, water and yeast. Unlike naan, injerra also functions as the utensil for your meal. Ethiopian food is meant to be shared as an act of brotherhood and of loyalty. Along with the injerra, we had Siga Watt, a spicy beef stew made of rich and tasty berbere; Misir, a vegetarian dish made with stewed lentils simmered in spices; Atkit Alicha, a combination of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, pepper and mild spices; Gomen, collared greens with just the right amount of African spices; Bakela, a stew made of fava beans and spices; firfir, a shredded and spiced injerra in chicken sauce; curry rice; and curry rice with shredded chicken. Sam presented us with a tasting of Sharon's homemade sweet potato pie to finish off our big lunch.

Clad in our French cuffs and ties, Don and I tore off a piece of injerra and dug in; scooping a sampling of each dish and repeated the same technique until the rolled injerra was gone. The technique, according to Sam, is to tear off a small piece of injerra in order to fully taste the dish. While I appreciate the suggestion, I was not about to get my fingers stained with food, so I went about my technique and before I can say Addis Ababa, I felt like a stuffed goose ready for the foie gras tasting at Taillevent.

I must say that the Gomen was the best collared green dish that I've tasted. I also enjoyed the siga watt which resembled a Bolognese ragu. But it was the curry rice with shredded chicken that really made my dining experience worthwhile.

Give Gojo a try. Tell them George and Don sent you. But take it easy with the injerra.

"Big Daddy" Don digging in - cuff links and all

Sharon and Sam Terfa - the proud owners

Gojo's facade on Norwood Street

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