by Damon Noisette // photos by Agnes Lopez
Ethiopia is a country known more for coffee beans than fine cuisine, and that is unfortunate because while it may seem wildly exotic and unfamiliar, a proper Ethiopian meal is a necessary culinary experience for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike. The main elements of dishes like doro wot, bozena shiro and kitfo will turn out to be quite familiar when you see them, though the deep, rich flavors are a pleasant surprise.
Born and raised in Ethiopia, chef and owner Tsion Chiksemo opened Ibex Ethiopian Kitchen in July of 2014, bringing her Gurage cooking skills to the Southside. The casual family restaurant has 84 seats and Chiksemo is in the process of adding more space to accommodate up to 153 patrons. A lunch buffet that will focus mainly on vegan options is in the works for after the expansion is complete.
Many of the main courses are stewed meats, so diners hoping to dig right in might want to start with a pair of lentil sambusas ($3.95), a fried pastry shell full of diced cabbage, carrots, onions and jalapeño peppers, to hold them over until the mains arrive.
An Ethiopian meal is meant to be communal and the dishes are plated so they can be shared by everyone at the table. Entrées are delivered with their proteins and vegetables in separate colorful groups, resting on what looks like a pancake but is actually injera, a spongy and gluten-free sourdough flatbread made of teff flour. More rolls of injera—looking a lot like empty enchiladas—surround the edges of the plate, waiting to be pulled apart into smaller sizes and used as the primary utensil. Don’t be shy about eating with your hands because the injera is a great vessel for each bite, soaking up the essence of everything you touch.
Ibex’s vegetarian platter ($12.95) gives you a combination of simmered potatoes, tomatoes, red lentils, cabbage, carrots and collard greens any Southern kitchen would be thrilled to call its own. The meat combination ($14.95) is a melange of kay wot (cubed beef cooked with onion and bebere sauces), alicha wot (slow cooked beef), and kitfo. Kitfo ($13.95) is a traditional Gurage dish of minced raw beef that is mixed with kibbe, a spiced clarified butter, and served tartare. There is also an assortment of tibs (sautéed meat chunks) entrées. The chicken tibs ($12.95), served still-marinating in a bowl of onion, tomato, garlic, ginger and spices, are incredibly tender and flavorful.
For the brew curious, Ibex has some Ethiopian beers worth a sampling, such as St. George Amber ($4.45). Another authentic beverage available is tej, or honey wine ($4.50) as it is also known. The yellowish mead is served in a bottle curiously like a beaker from a science lab and is a highly potent and sweet drink more suited to sipping and sharing than consuming by yourself.