Denver’s Ethiopian Scene

29 Aug 2021 no comments admin

The Ethiopian Restaurant is a no-frills cash-only spot that is also a Denver staple, having been in business since 1985. They were voted the best Ethiopian cuisine in Denver in both 2016 and 2017, so we decided this would be the restaurant we would try amongst all of the Ethiopian restaurant options throughout the city for our culinary culture, Ethiopian-themed meal. It didn’t disappoint!

The vibrant yellow, red and green stripes that decorate the outside of The Ethiopian Restaurant make it hard to miss when traveling down Colfax Ave. Once inside the blacked out front entrance doors (look for the illuminated open sign) it becomes clear that the restaurant holds true to it’s no-frills internet description. Ethiopian-themed images adorn the wall across from the payment counter, but little else suggests a “fine dining” experience, as you walk to the dining room on the other side of the Ethiopian-imaged wall. The dining room is modestly set with simple white linens and dim lighting. The service, as our group arrives, is casual and far from rushed. Waters and other ordered drinks appeared intermittently, and finally, once we all had arrived, the owner/waiter/chef approached, ready to take our order.

Finally, nearly two hours after arriving, our food arrives and any pangs of hanger immediately disappear as we dive into the huge plates of Injera bread soaked in a quickly incoherent collection of lentils, eggs, meat, sauces and spices.

 

Ethiopian immigrants have had a sizable presence in the Denver Metro area since the 1970s. In 2016, they numbered near 30,000 in total population, a number that has surely grown over the last three years. Now, almost 50 years later, the rest of us in Denver are blessed with a plethora of Ethiopian restaurants and cultural options to give us a taste of this otherwise distant culture.

 

Arguably the largest collection of Ethiopian restaurants in Denver lie on East Colfax Ave, between Yosemite St. and Franklin St. (if traveling East to West). Of note specifically, are:

 

Queen of Sheeba with Ethiopian honey wine AND Ethiopian cooking classes and a small collection of Ethiopian cooking products

 

Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant with menu options catering to both vegans and meat lovers & happy hour from 5-7 on weekdays.

 

Axum, that has an extensive menu and is open until 11pm.

 

Africana Restaurant and Cafe, a Denver staple that’s been around since 1980 and has a number of imported Ethiopian drinks and an active events calendar that rotates local bands and DJs on the restaurant’s stage.

 

Looking for other ways to engage with Denver’s vibrant and prevalent Ethiopian culture?

 

Check out these links if you’re feeling adventurous and want to try cooking some cuisine on your own:

Merkato Market

Megenagna Grocery

 

And visit these links to stay in the now about yearly Ethiopian food and culture festivals:

Colorado Ethiopian Community Facebook Group

Taste of Ethiopia – “The premier annual grand celebration event to celebrate and share Ethiopian culture and heritage with Colorado!”

 

Living outside the main downtown Denver area?

Arada Ethiopian Restaurant is located south of central downtown on Sante Fe,

 

The Nile Ethiopian Restaurant is east of Denver in Aurora, a proclaimed favorite amongst another collection of Ethiopian eateries.

 

And stay on the lookout for the Ethiopian Foodtruck and Sabas Foodtruck cruising around Denver city streets!

 

#denver #food #ethiopian

We Have Immigrants to Thank for Our Food Culture

29 Aug 2021 no comments admin

Small immigrant-run restaurants have laid the foundation for the hippest restaurants in Denver.

 

There is a very specific food scene within Denver that exists today because of its rich history and I want to talk about it because it gets me excited about food!

 

What is this specific food scene I’m talking about? Trendy cultural restaurants that offer Denver residents a taste of many things that originate outside of the United States borders, and I don’t think it’s possible to fully appreciate them unless we can understand their humble roots.

 

A New City

 

Denver has always been a city of immigrants. In the 1800’s a wave of people came to the Rocky Mountains looking for gold and set the stage for ongoing immigration that we still see prolifically today; “between 1990 and 2000, Denver’s foreign-born population grew by more than 178 percent, and the 2000 Census showed that 17 percent of Denver residents were foreign-born, with most hailing from Latin America.”

 

People from all over the world – Ethiopia, Peru, Poland, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Vietnam, Somalia, Asia Pacific and other places – now call Denver home. And although immigration and assimilation looked different across these cultures, there was a universal gift immigrants brought with them: food – recipes and ingredients from their home countries that would ultimately become the fundamental building blocks for the specific food scene that exists in Denver today.

 

Since starting to “walk across the bridge” to other cultures and learn about the people behind the restaurants we visit, all of which are small, family-run staples in their respective neighborhoods, I’ve noticed a relevant theme: an eagerness for these restaurants and the people running them to share their food, and by extension their culture, with the Denver community.

 

My Delicious Observation

 

I’ve discovered that many of these restaurants originally served as a local meeting spot for others in their immigrant community. They were the “watering hole” and the “family kitchen” where those from a common culture went to connect with one another and feel in community in a foregin place.

 

Now, in the 20 to 30 years since, these restaurants have expanded to serve primarily those outside of the originally intended community, and the interest Denver residents have in exploring culture through food has organically caused the influx of trendy cultural restaurants that have put Denver on the national food map.

 

It was the diversity of food around the city that served as one of the roots of The Same Plate initiative. The desire to connect people through cultural food grew from the understanding that smaller, decades-old restaurants that originally popped up a necessity for community now serve one far greater than what was originally intended and we all have something to be gained from that. Currently The Same Plate hosts monthly events where we establish relationships with these cultural restaurants before we meet, which allows hungry people to experience a real, authentic food connection. We would love for you to join us at our next event.

 

#food #events #denver #restaurants #culture

People Should Eat From The Same Plate

29 Aug 2021 no comments admin

A quick story about why we are here and what we are doing.

 

Have you ever noticed how sitting down and sharing a meal with someone is connecting in a way no other experience is? No matter the intention of a shared meal, both parties usually leave feeling more connected to the person sitting across the table from them.

 

Food is the glue that bonds people and places together in an experience that resonates with all 5 of the senses. It offers an opportunity to talk to anyone, about anything, with the mutual sustenance on the table serving as a simultaneous protection against unknown forces and bridge to the unknown sitting across the table. Food is magnetic, disarming and enchanting all at once, especially when it comes from the same plate as can be custom during shared meals.

 

There is, as far as I know, no scientific data that outlines the reason behind the food connection. It’s surely no coincidence though, that countless TV shows use shared meals as a way to build characters and bond them to each other and the viewer, that first dates in the real world nearly always happen someplace where food is present, and some of the most iconic religious and pagan images occur over a shared table. There is something humanizing about the fact that we all have to eat to live, and partaking in that reality with another party creates an empathetic and real connection that goes well beyond the surface of eating for sustenance. Inherent in eating a meal with someone is an unspoken but deeply shared understanding that there is something profound, maybe even spiritual, about the experience.

 

Shared meals are especially powerful when they take place outside of the realm of normal routines. When we share a meal, at a special occasion (like a wedding), to bring together a large group of people (like at a family birthday party) we often take for granted that food will be there and serve as some sort of centerpiece for the experience. Without food present, the experience feels incomplete.

 

The bonds of these connections are taken one step further when the intent of the experience is funneled through a shared interest in something new and unique. This happens at cultural dining events, where the central goal is to try something new, and the connections made through that complement the food.

 

Sharing a unique experience with others creates a memory that isn’t easily forgotten. To offer an example: have you ever taken a trip and met a stranger, who through your trip, became a friend, confidant and someone you felt connected to in ways maybe absent from other areas of your life? This bonding over unique experiences is the same opportunity that is present when partaking in cultural dining experiences, even right in your local community. Conversation over a shared plate about an unknown side dish, or the best ways to use chopsticks, breaks down normal conversational barriers that exist with a prerequisite knowledge of the way things are or are going to be.

 

It’s difficult to adequately articulate the underpinnings of the bond created through dining with others, especially when that experience is centered around something new and unique. It’s one of those things, like music or the sight of a double rainbow after a rainstorm that touches us in a profound and memorable way. The mystery of it all is what makes it continuously exciting and worth experiencing.

 

The Same Plate started through a desire to connect with my community more deeply and experience the vibrancy of different cultures that seemed to be hidden in the corners Denver, seemingly unavailable to those unwilling to travel outside of their comfort zone.

 

The first dinner we had was at The Ethiopian Restaurant and it was while I was sitting there watching one couple manage the entirety of the restaurant that I became interested in the story of the people behind these restaurants that paint the vibrant cultural tapestry that resonates across the city.

 

So, I set up an interview and talked with the daughter of the owners and it was at the end of our interview that she told me this:

 

“Our food is really reflective of our people. We all eat off of the same plate when we are together.”

 

And so began the initiative to highlight the cultural vibrancy of cities around the country, starting with Denver, and have everyone eat from “the same plate” as a symbol of community and connection across cultures.

 

#food #culture #connection #thefoodconnection