We simply can’t win ’em all. We try and we try hard. But sometimes we look in the mirror and we realize we’ve been beat. This is the story with me and Addis Ababa. I tried. I tried hard to get there. I outshone them all. I was qualified. I was enamored. I had the skills. I had the ambition. And in the end, fate had other plans for me. So, Ethiopia is not in my immediate future… or so I thought.
Here in Delhi, I’ve been running a foodie group that tours new restaurants on a monthly basis. This is an expat delight. Why? Because most Indians see dhabas as delicatessens and the foreign palette is completely different. We are used to Chinese food that is authentic, not fusion. Or Thai food that isn’t confused with Japanese and Parsi menu items. The foreign community here in Delhi is quite worldly. Otherwise we’d all be eating croissants comfortably in Paris and not eating chappatis and channa in cramped casas in Delhi. Ya dig? We’re not dumb. We’re not underexposed. We have made a choice to do things the hard way and we’re united here under the umbrella of ‘oh, fuck, what did I just do to myself?’
Anyways, it is June. And June’s Delhi Deli locale was the Ethiopian Cultural Centre. Why? Was I trying to undo the karmic forces that forced me out of Addis? Was I trying to woo my way back into Amharic‘s outstretched arms? Not really. New restaurants in Delhi are few and far between, because they don’t last long. The food quickly goes to shit. The chefs move on too quickly or are spread too thin, too early. Nobody bothers with Parisian prices for Punjabi food. It doesn’t make sense and restaurants disappear or reinvent themselves or dissolve into nothing. But, I arranged a group of 30+ foreigners and city newbies to visit this restaurant to see for ourselves what all the hype was about, see the house that hullabaloo built.
What we found was one of the very best restaurants in town. I, who spent two years living in Washington, D.C. (the Ethiopian exodus capital of the world) was surprised that the injera was not a scam. There was a lovely Ethiopian female chef in the kitchen who greeted us with a smile and no pretense. No bullshit. She spoke no English and clearly no Hindi, but she took a break from her injera press long enough to greet me and my friends with a smile and warmth, as if we had walked into her home – the same kitchen where she fed her babies. What came did not disappoint.
The servers were a little absent-minded, but significantly more careful with customer service than the vast majority of Delhi establishments. They paid us the attention we needed, as bill paying customers, and took heed whenever someone demanded, ‘Where are my tibs?!’ When we all needed individual bills – a huge mathematical feat of galactic proportions here in Delhi – they agreed with no hesitation. And they made good on it. Actually, one couple never got a bill and they walked out without paying for four dishes! Not one, but fourrrrrrr! Well, okay!
We will be back. I certainly recommend that anyone interested in food made with love and hospitality give the Ethiopian Cultural Centre a gander. I don’t promise that it’s as good as on 9th and U Street, or in the heart of Seattle, but on this side of the Indian Ocean, I doubt you’ll find a better destination to spend a lovely evening with those you care about.
No doubts about it!