Nyala – The Ethiopian Way
The area from Olympic Blvd. going South on Fairfax Ave. has become an Ethiopian bistro walk with a slew of eateries. I had dinner at Nyala, forerunner of Ethiopian restaurants in the area who’ve had many fine write‑ups because the food is good and it’s a new experience in dining for many. Interesting artifacts are part of the charm, including a full‑bar, (also Ethiopian wines, coffees & African beers) paintings displaying their unique style of cooking, and scenes of family life. The place is large with booths and tables, but the focal point is a wonderful simulated thatch hut. First-timers are always surprised upon entering, and what a great place to entertain guests, because dining the Ethiopian way is very social. In fact, it all starts with food, beginning with a complimentary community platter of “humus” served with crispy triangles for dipping.
Practically all Ethiopian restaurants serve the same menu, but as with any restaurant, some chefs do a better job than others. We thoroughly enjoyed the combinations of subtle tastes and fragrant pungent warm spices from the country which are delicately blended to produce unique flavors. The spices and preparations are centuries old, an exacting craft with presentations rooted in the soil of the land. This cuisine is paradise for vegetarians because of the many combinations of red lentils, onions, yellow split peas, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, collard greens, green beans, and red beets. All the dishes are some form of a stew made with beef, lamb and chicken, served with a salad, vegetables, and “injera,” (bread). The main spices used are garlic, onion, green chili, red peppers, ginger, hot peppers, limes, and spiced butter.
Ethiopia is the only place in the world where you can find Injera, a thin soft sourdough bread of the country; prepared for every meal from a traditional grain (teff) which is probably the smallest grain on our planet. Even though it takes l50 grains of teff to equal the weight of one grain of wheat, teff contains over l5 times as much calcium as barley or wheat. It’s the traditional bread of the country, however I think Americans trying it for the first time might have to get used to the taste and texture; but it’s part of every main course. And after a few minutes we thought it brought out the flavor of the food. This large flat slightly tangy spongy crepe is both the serving platter and your utensil when eating in this ethnic style. One breaks a small piece of injera and places it on their stew while simultaneously pinching it with the fingers to pick up the amount desired. It’s used to blanket the plate for pinching and scooping, as well as acting as the mat under the food to sop up all the good tastes on the bottom. (knives and forks are served when requested).
Our entrees were boneless pieces of chicken breast sauteed with onions and tomatoes, ($10.95 at dinner; $7.95-lunch). We combined it with their vegetarian diner which cost an extra $9.95, making our dinner for two, $2l. Let the waiter know if you wish to have it “hot to trot” medium, or mild.
Other stews include lamb or beef with selections from a list of various vegetable combinations. Entrees are priced from $9.95-$12.95; at lunch it’s less than $8. In addition, there’s fish, and shrimp. The vegetarian buffet is popular, served daily from 11:30am-3:00pm, ($6.95).
I enjoyed the food and compared some of it to Indian cooking because of the marvelous vegetables, and if you like stews, you will surely love this place as I did. Save room for dessert.
Before I left, I was reminded that the home of the oldest known species of human was discovered in Ethiopia, (Lucy). Moreover, coffee originated in Keffa. It’s also the home of the oldest written language‑geez; and home of the Queen of Sheba. Ethiopia is the oldest Christian nation with astounding rock hewn churches.
So be adventurous and try the food of this amazing country. 1076 S. Fairfax Ave., L.A; (323) 936‑5918; Open 7‑days from 11:30am; catering, take‑out; street parking; major credit cards accepted. Show off your “savoir vivre” to out-of-towners. Great for parties! www.nyala-la.com