I’ve been a fan of Abyssinia Ethiopian restaurant since it opened in a strip mall on West 38th Street several years back. Since then, that area of Indianapolis has become something of an international food lover’s paradise—but I still find myself, more often than not, passing up the newer arrivals in favor of Abyssinia.
If you’ve never eaten Ethiopian food before, prepare yourself for a cultural experience. First off, you can choose to sit at either a Western-style table or a traditional Ethiopian table made of grass blades called a messob. Why not go all the way and choose the messob? Either way, though, don’t look for utensils when you sit down; diners eat with their fingers, using thin, spongy sheets of flatbread (called injera) to scoop up the various stews.
At my most recent visit to the restaurant, I started with an appetizer of yesega sambusa (a fried, triangular pastry stuffed with seasoned beef) and a bottle of Bedele Ethiopian beer. The pastry wasn’t that special (and, in retrospect, rather unnecessary given the amount of food you get with your meal), but I enjoyed the Bedele, a pale, golden lager with a hoppy, honey-ish taste.
If you can't decide on one dish to order, you can go with a combo or a “Taste of Abyssinia.” We opted for the Taste of Abyssinia 2, which included cooked spinach, lamb stew, yellow beans, and three dishes made with spicy berbere sauce—chicken, beef, and lentils. I’m happy to say that everything was delicious; we didn’t leave one dollop. Be warned that the dishes made with berbere sauce can be very spicy, so make sure you have plenty of Bedele (or water, if you’re not a beer fan) within reach! Also come prepared to get your fingers dirty; they provide you with plenty of napkins, but your hands will probably smell like spices for a day or so afterward. They’ll also bring you more injera, if you need it, so don’t skimp on the bread. Oh, one other warning—be careful of bones in the chicken and lamb.
Abyssinia is open every day except Monday. Their hours are from 11:00 to 9:00 (Tuesday-Thursday) and 11:00 to 10:00 (Friday and Saturday).