I love Ethiopian food. It strikes me in a way no other cuisine does, and I internalize the food; the “way” of the food is intuitive to me.
The food is real; primal. To eat Ethiopian food is to, in a way, eat from the earth itself. It is to understand the basic beauty of our own existence – that of being innately tied to the earth; of being fundamentally a part of it, always.
The food looks very much like its actual, natural form… and were it not for the vivid kaleidoscope of spices, it would likely mirror this fact in taste. You always know exactly what you’re eating; the food is honest – more honest than other cuisines. And I love that.
The food is also incredibly intimate. The process of eating is one of a high degree of involvement. There are no forks; no knives; instead, it is a true indulgence of textures, as each bite is eaten by tearing off a piece of spongy injera and then dabbing or dipping or scooping the sauces. The manner is casual; easy. There are no pretentions about which fork to use or how much a lady ought to leave on her plate. The entire plate is shared – another element of intimacy. And every person eats in the way that feels most comfortable. There is no “right” way and no wrong.
It is often customary to feed one another in this same fashion, with a single bite offered between friends.
When you stop focusing on etiquette and rigor, the emphasis instead goes to nourishment and conversation – i.e., exactly where it should be.
There is not status, really, with traditional food. While higher incomes eat more raw meat and serve sheep, rather than chicken, for their Christmas dinner, the fundamentals of cuisine are all the same: everyone eats injera. I guess this is the same in most cultures apart, perhaps, from ours.
By the way, if you happen to be looking for a good Ethiopian restaurant in one of the three cities I frequent (that being Denver, Chicago and Boston), the best in each, as recommended by locals of Ethiopian ethnicity whose opinions I am quick to garner if offered when I meet them, are as follows:
(With regard to what to order: I always get vegetarian. I have never been disappointed.)