Our meal got out of hand quickly. We made it through the appetizers at Emanu East African Restaurant without incident; the sambussa—beef, chilies, and herbs fried in dough—was crispy with just the right amount of heat. It was with the arrival of the main course that things got messy. Blame it on the injera. For the uninitiated, injera is traditional Ethiopian flat bread that functions as both a serving vessel and a utensil. Made from teff flour, it is spongy and sour. The entrées—saucy portions of stewed meats or vegetables called wats—are served family-style atop a giant wheel of injera. You eat with your hands, scooping up the food with extra injera that’s delivered in tightly wrapped rolls (which might reasonably be mistaken for hot towels). If you do it right, by the end of this meal you’ll want a washcloth. We tried a little of everything: Kilwa Sega, beef sautéed with onions and peppers; Alicha Beghie, a sweet lamb dish with lemon and onion; Ahmelti, a mix of collard greens and cabbage; and our favorite, Tesbhi Derho, chicken in a red pepper sauce with ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg. It was all hearty and only improved as the food mixed together and the injera soaked up the sauces. There were splatters. A necktie narrowly avoided ruin. Hot sauce made its way into someone’s eye. In the process, the meal did what the menu said it would, strengthening our “bonds of loyalty and friendship.” (The restaurant’s new liquor license helps on that front, too.) Ethiopians don’t eat much dessert, but Emanu offers enticing options. If you order the baklava, skip the injera and use a fork.
Emanu East African Restaurant6063 Montgomery Rd.(513) 351-7686. Prices: $4–$22. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sat.
Originally published in the August 2012 issue
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