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Ethiopian restaurants - can you ask for a fork?

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I would really like to try Ethiopian food, which sounds great. I really love the kinds of spices they use. However, I HATE injera. I don't like the texture, the appearance, or the taste. In Chinese restaurants, it is no big deal to ask for a fork and in many they will even provide Western utensils to everyone along with the chopsticks, without anyone even having to ask.

Is it completely unacceptable to ask for Western utensils in an Ethiopian restaurant? Would it be seen as insensitive or insulting? Have you ever done it?

  1. While I do like the injera, it fills me up too much (I'd rather eat copious amounts of the delicious dishes). I've asked for a fork many times at our local joint and have always been happily accomodated!

    1 Reply
    1. re: imsohungry

      I have asked for a fork as there always comes a point in the meal where I'm getting really full and would like to stop eating injera and continue eating the meat and vegetables. I have been told that they have no forks, so no.

      So based on imsohungry's response and mine, it would make sense to call the restaurant ahead of time and ask.

    2. I'd probably bring my own fork. I acknowledge it's probably rude. But then again, I am the customer.

      5 Replies
      1. re: jeanmarieok

        I bring my own chopsticks when we go for dim sum, just because all the seafood houses around here have those big slippery plastic fake-ivory ones, just the thing for dropping a glutinous shrimp dumpling down the front of one's shirt. This has raised some eyebrows at the table, but no negative vibes from the staff.

        I don't see any real difference between bringing one's favored utensils to a meal and bringing one's own cue stick to a pool game, and if one is, as you say, a paying customer, there is no reasonable basis for anyone to feel annoyed, much less express it.

        1. re: Will Owen

          A well bred person would not raise their eyebrows if you dropped a dumpling down your shirt, they would pretend not to notice. 4 or 5 dumplings, though, would smack of a buffet heist...:)

          1. re: Veggo

            My very well-bred wife would say, "Will! Not AGAIN!!" and the rest of the Food Posse would be snorting or laughing out loud. I run with a brutal crowd. No damn respect for age whatsoever. Great taste in grub, though.

        2. re: jeanmarieok

          It would be rude in the home context if it was not done for necessity, because it implies the host cannot provide proper hospitality. In the commercial context, it's less pointed and therefore less rude, and in this specific context, I would not count it as rude (unless you expect the staff to wash your own utensil...).

          1. re: jeanmarieok

            I'm reminded of ‘As Good as It Gets’ where Melvin Udall only uses his own disposable plastic fork and knife because he doesn't trust the cleanliness of the restaurant silver.

          2. Yes it is O.K. and most will gladly accommodate you.

            1. Thanks, everyone! There are so many Ethiopian restaurants here and now I'm going to start trying them all!

              4 Replies
              1. re: Just Visiting

                The Ethiopian restaurant where I live offers all dishes and combo platters on rice as an alternative to injera. Forks are necessary with rice. If I didn't want the injera and rice wasn't offered, I'd just ask for my dishes to be served on their own, without the injera, as it absorbs the sauces from each dish. I'd just ask for a fork and spoon.

                1. re: Just Visiting

                  Is there any restaurant in this country that wouldn't accommodate a request for a fork?

                  1. re: ferret

                    There was a vietnamese place in Poughkeepsie, not sure if it is still there (or what the name was) but I used to go there in the late 90s. That was where I learned to deal with chopsticks because that's all they had (well, that and the soup spoons).

                  2. Quite a few Ethiopian restaurants serve Italian food as well. In the DC area, I've been to an Ethiopian restaurant that served only Italian food. So forks and spoons are certainly available.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Steve

                      How is it an Ethiopian restaurant if it only serves Italian food? I would call that an Italian restaurant that happens to be owned/operated by Ethiopians.

                      1. re: babette feasts

                        It could be serving Ethopianized Italian food. They were an italian colony and surely some of the culinary background ended up there.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          Interesting. I had no idea they were a colony, that would make more sense.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Yes, I found that. History was never a strong suit :) So what is the story of this restaurant you mentioned? Ethiopianized Italian food? Italianized ethipian food?

                              1. re: babette feasts

                                Basically, it's just bad Italian food..... not quite like Italian-American food.... but it is an Ethiopian restaurant. I don't even know if the place I'm thinking about is still around, but anywhere you find a bunch of Ethiopian restaurants, you will find some that also serve a few Italian dishes. Also, an Ethiopian bakery here will serve mostly Italian pastries.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  Huh. I don't go out for a ton of Ethipian food, but I do really enjoy it, and I swear I've never seen any Italian food on the menus. Thanks for enlightening me.

                    2. The difference is that in Chinese restaurants, you're not supposed to *eat* the chopsticks, just eat with them.

                      I think most places will give you a fork if you ask, but I also think it's kind of rude not to eat using the injera and your hand. Also, if you try eating it more, maybe you'll develop a taste for it. That's what happened with my sister. Either that, or just don't go to Ethiopian restaurants (or get takeout, and enjoy with a fork in the privacy of your home).

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: will47

                        I too find the texture of injera to resemble a very thin sponge and I cannot stand to put anything fabric-like in my mouth--think pulling off mittens with your teeth--so I have always eaten Ethiopian food with a fork. Never had a problem getting one and can't see why it would be considered "rude" in any setting, let alone one where you are paying for your food.

                        1. re: will47

                          I think most places will give you a fork if you ask, but I also think it's kind of rude not to eat using the injera and your hand.
                          ________________________________

                          Really, why?

                          I understand that using a fork would run counter to the cultural norms of Ethiopian etiquette, but so what?

                          You're at a restaurant, not at the home of an Ethiopian host.

                        2. Not to hijack a thread or anything, but if you do eat with your fingers, does it make a difference which hand you use?

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: Clarkafella

                              In all cultures that eat with the hand, the right hand is always used. You never touch food, or a person, with your left hand. It is considered unclean because your left hand is/was used to clean yourself after the toilet. In my travels there were times when I actually sat on my left hand so I wouldn't accidentally use it during a meal.

                              1. re: JMF

                                That was what I thought but wasn't sure. And we just had our first Ethiopian restaurant open here a few months ago...

                            2. I dunno about in a restaurant elsewhere but I wonder if in Ethiopia eschewing injera could be seen as greediness for or hoarding of the more expensive meat and veg dishes, the way it might be in some Asian countries where the savoury dishes are supposed to be kinda like accessories for the rice upon which you are meant to fill up. I remember a sibling being taught that before he went off to do an exchange program in Thailand, at any rate.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: grayelf

                                Good point, except that would not be an issue for the restaurant. It would be an issue for the people you are dining with. The restaurant gives you a fixed amount of food. So the only issue then is if you would be sucking up more than your fair share by using a fork instead of injera.

                                1. re: Just Visiting

                                  And that would depend on whether you chose to do so, no?

                              2. I didn't like the sourness of injera the first time I tried it. (Not a big fan of sourdough bread either) But I liked it fine the 2nd time. Maybe I just needed the exposure.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  Same here. There's an ethiopian place near me that doesn't have traditional injera, it's not sour. For years I just figured I liked that place more out of the two local spots, not realizing the difference. Then I find out that injera is supposed to be sour. Oops.

                                2. Do I understand that you have not eaten Ethiopian food yet with or without injera?

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: sr44

                                    Are you asking me (OP) or pdxgastro? I have not tried Ethiopian food yet, with or without injera BECAUSE I don't like injera. My husband loves it and we were at a food fair and he gave me some of his injera and while I typically like sour things, including sourdough bread, it was gray and spongy and the color and consistency were very off-putting. The taste was more like something spoiled rather than something sour. Being as I've come to enjoy many foods that are acquired taste, I kept eating it even though - as a friend described it (and she likes injera) - it is like eating an old, dirty swiffer mop cover in terms of consistency. No luck. I didn't like the last bite any more than the first bite. But everything else about Ethiopian foods seems to be exactly the kinds of things I like, which is why I asked the question. We have a lot of Ethiopian restaurants here and I'd really like to try them, but didn't know if it would be rude/insensitive to ask for a fork.

                                    1. re: Just Visiting

                                      So let me get this right. You are basing your dislike for injera on one time when you tried it, and it was injera that a friend said wasn't any good, and she likes injera and is familiar with it?

                                      Just go to an Ethiopian restaurant and try the whole experience correctly. Expose yourself to injera several times and see how you feel.

                                      1. re: JMF

                                        Maybe injera's just not everyone's cup of tea? My man is a great fan of Ethiopian cuisine, but we hardly ever go to any resto because I fucking hate injera. There isn't a thing I like about it --- regardless of how often I try. The floppy, spongy texture, the sour taste.... it's like everything bread *shouldn't* be.

                                        Which is really too bad, b/c I enjoy all the stuff they throw on top. I guess I'll go back and ask for a fork next time :-D

                                        1. re: JMF

                                          No. I had injera the one time. The friend who likes injera was not there and she was not referring to the injera I tried. She has friends who are from Ethiopia and has been to their home numerous times and she's always eaten the food with the injera. And in someone's home, I would be even more concerned, so I can understand why she does that. I would, too. So we were talking about this because we were thinking about going to an Ethiopian restaurant together. And I wondered if it would be rude or insensitive to ask for a fork in a restaurant. So I came here to ask, but I am beginning to regret having done so. I've been accused of being insensitive and rude for merely asking the question. One response assumed I would walk into a restaurant and loudly proclaim that I think a food item is disgusting. And you seem very upset with me for not liking a particular food item.

                                          I appreciate the many helpful and informative responses.

                                          Chowhound moderators: please consider deleting this entire thread.

                                    2. Folks, since the OP seems to have received all the answers they're interested in, we're going to lock this now.