I could start the post with an ignorant joke about Ethiopian food, but I have become such a fan that the idea frankly offends me. If you haven’t eaten at Cleveland’s sole Ethiopian restaurant you have been missing out. I have eaten at Empress Taytu quite a few times in the last year, and it has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants. Not to mention the fact that it is truly unique!
To quote Wikipedia, “Ethiopian cuisine and Eritrean cuisine characteristically consists of spicy vegetable and meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (or wot), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour. Ethiopians eat with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes. No utensils are used.” Guests are encouraged to share, and the combination platters easily accommodate several people.
Located in a rather dicey part of town, Empress Taytu offers ample parking in a gated area or in front of the restaurant, so there is really no need to be afraid to dine here. Once you walk inside you feel like you’ve entered another world. Empress Taytu features several thatched huts and comfortable carved wooden chairs sets around a mesob, which is a traditional table that is curved to accommodate the tray containing the food. Before the food is served you are given a warm towel to wash your hands. As I said earlier, the food is ladled on top of the injera (and additional injera is served on a separate plate). You then tear off pieces of injera and wrap it around a mouthful of your food.
To be honest, the first time I ate here I wasn’t a fan, but from the second time on I was hooked. You just have to know what to order. You can’t go wrong with the sambusas or any of the other appetizers. My favorite entree at Empress Taytu is by far the tibs, which is sauteed meat or vegetables (see photo above). I prefer the chicken or shrimp tibs, which is shrimp or chicken sauteed with peppers, onions and various seasonings. It is served on the bread with a small, lightly dressed salad and one of the vegetarian entrees. I always order the tikil gomen (a stew featuring cabbage and carrots). This entree is so good I usually can’t stop eating it – even after I am full.
One of Empress Taytu’s most popular dishes is Dorowat, a spicy stew made of chicken and sometimes hard-boiled eggs. Ethiopian food can be very spicy, and Dorowat is one of the spicier dishes. Those of you new to Ethiopian food may want to order a combination platter to try the various entrees that are available. Empress Taytu offers meat (right) and vegetarian (above left) platters.
One thing you should be aware of – it is very easy to get full. The portions may not look very large when the food comes out, but you will be very surprised how quickly you become full. I used to split the vegetarian combination platter with my boyfriend, and we wouldn’t finish it.
If you have a lot of time (and can handle strong coffee in the evening), the coffee service is also a must. It is designed to slow things down and provide time for you and your fellow guests to talk. The server pan-roasts green Ethiopian coffee beans over a low fire until they browned and began to ooze oil. After the beans begin to smoke, she passes them around (or places them close to you) so that everyone can enjoy the aroma. Incense is also lit and carried around the room. The beans are then ground with a mortar and pestle and placed in a tall clay pot (see photo – and you can see some smoking incense in the background). We had ordered it as a group for a recent annual meeting of my translators group (we had the place to ourselves), so those of us who wanted coffee were asked to sit in a circle of low wooden chairs once the coffee was brewed and elaborately poured the coffee into cups.
Just don’t go here if you are in a hurry. You are definitely in a different world. Service is very slow, so consider yourselves forewarned. Just plan accordingly, allowing for several hours to dine before embarking on any other evening plans.
6125 Saint Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103-1627