Monday, December 3, 2012 My Neighborhood.

Chris shoveling food into my mouth with his bare hands. The aroma of burnt coffee beans staining our clothes. A foreign version of pop-and-lock dancing playing out in a music video on the big screen. All highlights of our first trip to Mahidir, an Ethiopian restaurant near our house - nestled anonymously in a strip mall in between a Mexican and Korean joint.

I had eaten Ethiopian food once before...for this (below) story I did for KUTV a year ago.

Food-wise, it's similar to Indian food. And I love that there are so many vegetarian options, which all utilize health-promoting spices and protein-packed plant foods (lentils, garbanzo beans, injera). Injera is a spongy pancake-like sourdough bread made with a protein-rich flour called "teff." You use this bread to pick up the food, because no utensils is the name of the game.

We ordered the $8.99 vegetarian platter, that proved to be a feast for both eyes and tummy. And it was fun to figure out how to eat it with the injera. But when I noticed the tumeric (yellow spice) staining my new white acrylic nails, and there was no fork on back-up, I needed a new option. The sheer amount of sour bread we were injesting just to eat the food had Chris growing weary as well. So he dropped the dough and dug in with his bare hands. Sympathetic to my nail situation, he realized I couldn't use my hands, and offered me a fingerful of food as a test run. I bit the mixture of different dishes off his four fingers, aimed like a shovel into my mouth. Method approved! The group of young Ethiopian teenagers at the table nearby didn't even blink an eye, but they were giggling amongst themselves at my intrigue with the music videos.

The owner, Sleshi, is jovial and laid back.
The owner, a baseball cap-wearing, soft-spoken, friendly fellow named Sleshi made sure to check on us often. He even sent us out the door with a free six-pack of homemade baklava. And though I knew that's just good customer service, I also felt an authenticity from him that's hard to fake. The server and cook lady were the same way. And even on our way out, a man sitting in front of the store asked how we liked it, and was happily insistant that we have a good weekend.

Towards the end of the meal, the place - full of Ethiopians only - got a burnt coffee smell as a headscarf-toting lady roasted Ethiopia-imported beans in a saucepan on a burner on the floor.

"You can taste it if you stay long enough," Sleshi jovially offered.

But we had had our fill, quite literally, and said our goodbyes. Admiring the African murals as we left (Sleshi had walked us through the history of all things portrayed), we felt satisfied from the healthy vegetarian food on which we totally feasted, and were glad to have experienced a genuine slice of Ethiopa right here in our neighborhood.

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