The vegetarian, legume and meat dishes that comprise Ethiopian cuisine are intended to be shared from a common plate. That’s the uniqueness of the evening dining experience — a buffet is offered at lunch — for guests at Taste of Ethiopia in Southfield.
While silverware is available, it’s traditional to break off pieces of injera, a spongy flatbread, to scoop up mouthfuls of food heaped on an injera-covered platter. The dark and tangy injera is made from teff, a small, nutritious grain native to Ethiopia.
A more intimate way to dine employs the concept of goursha (or gursha), where one diner feeds bites of injera-pinched food to another. “Spread the Love, the Goursha Way” is inscribed on a wooden plank above the buffet ledge.
Metro Detroit can thank owners Meskerem “Meski” Gebreyohannes and her husband, Workalemahu Kassa, or “Kassa,” for bringing us Taste of Ethiopia. Emigrants to Canada in 1982, Meski had an Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto. In 2005, a year after moving to the Detroit area, the couple opened its first Taste of Ethiopia in a Southfield Road shopping strip. A concurrent, second restaurant lasted four years in Detroit’s Eastern Market.
“There’s no comparison,” said Meski, discussing how much business improved after moving into the restaurant’s light-filled space on Northwestern Highway, below 12 Mile.
Meski, an Ethiopian Jew, enjoys teaching schoolchildren and other visitors about the customs and cuisine of her native land. Items she displays in the restaurant include pitchers, baskets, dolls, wood carvings and musical instruments. Black-and-white drawings of Ethiopian people in black frames decorate a rough yellow wall in the dining room. The opposite blue wall features three folk art depictions of women. Tables are set with colored cloth napkins, and white paper covers the white cloth tablecloths. The seating for 50 includes booths.
Upon customer order, the kitchen individually hand-roasts its mild, delicately flavored Ethiopian coffee. Traditional containers are utilized for bringing coffee, sugar, frankincense and burning incense to the table on a platter. The naturally sweet Ethiopian tea I adore contains aromatic spices. Smoothies are also available.
Like the beverages, everything is made from scratch here, including baklava and vegan cheesecake.
“There’s nothing where we can just open a box,” Meski said. She and her engineer husband, who arrives after work, both cook.
My mouth waters thinking about the buffet I’ve tried many times, served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays. The non-meat choices include red lentil and split pea sauces, cabbage and carrots, and collard greens. A vegetarian combination plate may be created from seven menu choices, plus salad and a side, such as the daily soup.
Traditionally seasoned beef, lamb, chicken and fish dishes are menu options that rotate on the buffet.
“People love our lamb here,” Meski said. Choices are mild lamb stew, lamb on the bone served in a hot pan and spicy, marinated cubes of lamb. The meat combo also includes two vegetable dishes.
Meski and Kassa have three children and four grandchildren. Their restaurateur son in D.C. also manages Taste of Ethiopia Grab & Go refrigerated entrees, available at Whole Foods.
Boasting a liquor license and Meski’s Mojito, Taste of Ethiopia opens a second location this spring in Birmingham.
Taste of Ethiopia
28639 Northwestern Hwy.
Southfield, MI 48034
$$ out of $$$$$