Like Chinese restaurants in America, Ethiopian-American megeb betoch ("food houses") tend to serve a dozen or so dishes whose ingredients are familiar enough to American palates.
Rare is the restaurant that serves milas (beef tongue), hod (stomach), dulet (a stew of spiced beef, liver and tripe), or milasna sember (tripe and tongue), dishes you'll find in Ethiopia, and in the more diverse Ethiopian cookbooks, but only now and then in Ethiopian restaurants in the U.S.
Not so exotic, but still rarely seen, is kategna, toasted pieces of injera coated with berbere (red pepper spice) and kibbee (spiced butter), often offered as an appetizer. Just as rare is bedergan (eggplant) and duba (pumpkin, or sometimes squash). Each usually comes as a wot. These dishes emerged in Ethiopia in the last several hundred years, as more European vegetables found their way into the Ethiopian diet.
Then there's the delicious butecha, seen more and more on restaurant menus. It's sort of the Ethiopian hummus, although when done well, it looks like scrambled eggs. It's a blend of chick pea powder, onion, jalapeño, turmeric, lemon juice and olive oil, chilled and chopped to give it the appearance of eggs. Meskerem in New York City makes butecha, but it's not on the menu: You get a little side portion with the vegetarian platter. Other restaurants offer it mostly as an entrée choice but sometimes as an appetizer, and every now and then it will look like hummus - although it shouldn't.
Ethiopian restaurants may not be as ubiquitous in America as their Chinese competition, but they've certainly come a long way in the past 30 years.
©Copyright 2010 by Harry Kloman