July 12th, 2010

Once, when I was a little girl, someone took my mother to an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. Not a subtle woman, she came back with a report that it was like eating out of a baby’s diaper. In the years that followed, it never once occurred to me that that was an experience I needed to have for myself. In college I felt myself softening. There were a few Ethiopian restaurants in the area that my friends were always raving about. It was turning out that quite a few of the things my mother had told me over the years were not quite as absolutely etched-in-stone-true as she had led me to believe, and I was kind of into a bit of truth-seeking. I had gone so far as to make a date to eat at a place called The Blue Nile when a “friend” told me that the soft injera bread that is used in lieu of silverware, is actually tripe. (To digress quickly, it now seems so silly to say a thing like that. With google and iphones and all this access we have to information, a rumor like that could last for a half of a nanosecond in our modern life. But this was back in the days when you could still spread a nice little story.) The point is, I think I was 25 the first time I ate Ethiopian food. 25 long years before I discovered the fun of eating family style, with your hands, cooling your burning mouth with honey wine.

I recently took my sister to a place in San Jose called Zuni. She’s 24 and still entrenched in her process of unraveling our mother’s yarns. I like to help sometimes, when I can, and so, in that spirit, I told her we were going for Italian food. I was nervous because I had never been to this place before, it was a recommendation from a friend, and I knew the stakes were very high. As predicted, she was horrified when we arrived. I begged her to stay and she relented only when I promised we could go somewhere else afterwards if she found she couldn’t eat anything there. This, then, is a note of thanks to Zuni. My sister is a convert. I’ll spare you the details, the faces she made when the giant plate of injera covered with strange brown lumps came out. The way she pretended she wasn’t enjoying it until she realized she wasn’t going to get to keep eating unless she confessed. Beautiful Eithiopian food, done very nicely at Zuni, and she and I are just a little bit more free.

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