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Ethiopian Cuisine

My fiftieth birthday came and went with no major fanfare.  My kids dedicated the day to me and spoiled me with gifts and meals.  I got some birthday cards and had a nice day.  I was happy enough with how it went but there was no party and I didn’t tell anyone at work about it so nobody there knew.

The following week I went to work and a couple of workmates joked with me claiming I had neglected them so, thinking to silence them, I accused them of not even bothering to wish me a happy birthday for my fiftieth.

They stared at me and demanded to know why I had not told them I was turning 50 and I just shrugged.  They accused me of trying to deprive them of a perfect excuse for a get-together and immediately set a date to rectify the situation.

Before I could scratch my head the word was going around – come celebrate Kim’s 50th with us and people were signing up to come.  The venue was selected – a small Ethiopian restaurant that my daughter and I went to once and enjoyed.  We had to ask them to set the whole place aside for us which they agreed to do.

The day arrived and people turned up bearing cards and gifts then we all sat down at the pushed together tables to eat Ethiopian style.

The first thing people noticed was the prices.  All of the dishes were either eight or ten dollars.  A few people decided to order several dishes so they could try it all since it was so cheap.  It wasn’t long before the tables were groaning under the weight of the biggest plates I have ever seen filled with piles of various types of food arranged on huge slabs of Ethiopian “bread”.

Everyone knew what to do next because I had told them.  My daughter and I were able to spare them the embarrassment we suffered when our food had arrived minus any cutlery!

On that visit we sat and scratched our heads then peeked under napkins and behind the basket containing rolls of the Ethiopian bread looking for cutlery.  We scanned the restaurant in case we had overlooked a cutlery container but, finally, we were forced to ask the owners of the restaurant how to eat their food.

They showed us how to break off pieces of the bread and use it to scoop up chunks of food which were then eaten, bread and all, in bite size portions.

Now we showed everyone else how to do it and people tucked in with enthusiastic curiosity.

Complimentary bowls of rice and salad arrived and I quickly warned everyone that the bits of green stuff in the salad were not capsicum but chilli.  I found that out the hard way last time I ate there too!

We ate and ate and ate but there was just too much.  People kept eating long after they were full partly because the food was so tasty but also because it felt terribly wrong to waste food in an Ethiopian restaurant!  Many of us remembered the constant demands our parents had made for us to clean our plates because of “the starving children in Ethiopia”.  We tried, valiantly, to clean these plates but we failed and were left groaning about how glad we were that there were no deserts on offer.

Some people elected to try the Ethiopian coffee ceremony so the staff brought the tray to our table and lit the fire.  Scented smoke quickly filled the small room and we had to prop the restaurant door open to ease our watering eyes.

At the end of the night people began handing money to me to pay for the meal.  I did my sums and calculated that, even without me adding money, the meals were paid for with an $11.00 tip thrown in.

I handed the waiter the money and was surprised when he returned with one dollar.  I was too flushed with the excitement of a good night to think much about it so I handed the dollar to the person who had paid most and we all left the restaurant.

As we walked out I turned to the staff and thanked them for a good night.  I noted they were smiling broadly, as if amused about something, but they thanked me for coming and wished me a happy birthday.

It was not until after I got home that I realised I had added it all up wrong and we had only given them a one dollar tip – which they returned.  I considered going back the next day to give them the 10 dollar tip but I was just mortified.  We had been so vocal about how the food and service was worth a decent tip and then we gave them a dollar.

THEN – we took it BACK!

No wonder they were amused.  It was quite generous of them to give me birthday wishes when I turned out to be such a lousy tipper!

My only consolation is the word spread like wildfire through my workplace and a lot of new business has gone to them since then.  I plan to tip VERY big next time I go.  I just have to wait until they no longer remember me is all.

If you are looking for a nice, different, dining experience I recommend a little Ethiopian restaurant by the name of “AWASH” in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray.  It’s probably best if you go in a group so you can try all the dishes and I would advise that you DON’T say I sent you!

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