Ethiopian dining is made for kids

Psst. Want your kids to try new foods? Let them eat with their hands.

That’s the way they do it at the Ethiopian Diamond restaurants in Chicago. Food is served Ethiopian style, which means there are no utensils. Instead, everyone’s order is placed on one large, round serving platter (eating from one platter symbolizes loyalty and friendship). Diners break off small pieces of the spongy pancake-like injera bread and scoop up whichever food they would like to eat.

Almaz Yigizaw opened the first Ethiopian Diamond restaurant at 6120 N. Broadway Ave. in 1996 and says it is now the largest Ethiopian restaurant in the country. She opened a second, at 7537 N. Clark St., last year.

Both of the family-friendly restaurants often entertain school groups. She says the kids “are not as afraid to try (exotic foods) as they used to be.”

Yigizaw, who spent six months in a Sudanese refugee camp before emigrating to Chicago with her brother when she was 15, never cooked when she was growing up. Despite that, she cooks the way she remembers her grandma cooking back in Gander, Ethiopia.

She imports her spices directly from Ethiopia and cooks “by taste,” she says.

There are savory meat dishes made with lamb, beef, chicken or seafood, but there also are many traditional vegan and gluten-free dishes, including injera bread, which is traditionally made of gluten-free teff flour.

Portions are generous and, Yigizaw promises, her staff is happy to offer guidance to Ethiopian Diamond newcomers.

I recommend first-time visitors order the “Tour of Ethiopia,” which offers a sambusa appetizer (thin dough shells stuffed with minced meat or vegetables), Diamond salad, entrée choice (stew-like dishes containing lamb, beef, chicken, seafood, or vegetarian options with vegetables, lentils or chick peas that can be made mild or spicy), and sides (try the greens simmered in garlic and onions). Finish with the not-too-sweet injera torte, made from injera bread and walnut cream and drizzled with chocolate.

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