A taste of Ethiopia

Tana, a flavorful Ethiopian restaurant located at 5929 Baum Blvd. in East Liberty, has earned a well-deserved spot on Pittsburgh’s map of great places to eat. Colored a warm yellow and decorated with beautiful African artifacts, the restaurant exudes a bright and cheery atmosphere that is warm and welcoming.

The menu provides a wide selection with an equal amount of choice for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Although on initial inspection the prices may seem a bit high, ranging from $11 to $15 per dish, Tana provides two free vegetarian sides with each entree, making it worth the money. This is also a great way to allow a person unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine to get a quick sampler of a larger portion of the menu. For those who wish to get a wider taste of the menu, Tana also offers a combination platter, giving diners the choice of four entrees, either meat ($14 for one diner or $13 each for two or more diners) or vegetarian ($10 for one diner, $9 each for two or more diners). No matter the choice, the food always appears in many colorful mounds on each plate, and although at first glance the portions do not look too big, they prove to be quite filling.

The food has a distinct flavor to it and is a unique mix of meats, vegetables, and African spices. The dishes can be spicy, but Tana provides milder versions of the sauces for people who do not enjoy spicy foods. The starters include sambusa, a triangle-shaped fried snack filled with meat or vegetables. Cold beet and chickpea salads also find their place on the menu. For the main course, the choices range from warm curries made of beef, chicken, vegetables, and lentils, to cold mixtures of chopped and seasoned vegetables. Some good choices include: Doro Wot, spicy chicken stewed in Tana’s special sauce, Misir Wot, a dish made from split lentils simmered in minced onions and served with the choice of a spicy Berbere sauce or a milder turmeric sauce, and Tikil Gomen, a delicious mix of carrots and cabbage cooked with sauteed onions and garlic.

The entire meal is served on a plate of traditional Ethiopian spongy bread called injera, which lends the meal a whole new experience of eating without cutlery. The customer is expected to tear a piece of the bread from off the sides, dip the piece into the meat or vegetable, and then enjoy the combined flavors. The bread, being spongy and porous, tends to absorb the gravy and spices from the meal that’s piled on it, which, while making it soggy, also adds to its taste.

The Misir Wot is exceptionally appetizing because it lends a spicy and rich flavor to the complementary injera bread. The Tikil Gomen is a pleasant combination of crunchy texture and sweet flavor, giving the entire meal a sugary side.

There are not too many options for desserts, just baklava and ice cream, but the restaurant gives you the option of tasting a spicy hot cup of freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee.

One special thing about the restaurant is that it hosts a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony every weekend. Between 12:30 and 1 p.m. every Saturday, visitors can watch a demonstration of how to brew a tasty cup of coffee from the native Harar beans. The host freshly brews the coffee and pours it out of a clay teapot into handleless cups. The coffee is brewed three times, and during the ceremony, traditional incense, like gum arabic and frankincense, are burned. Tana also provides samples of authentic Ethiopian beer and honey wine.

The service at the restaurant is great, with courteous hostesses, and not a long wait for the food. Tana also provides a special 10 percent discount for university students showing a valid ID.

Tana is an enjoyable place to visit for both those new to and experienced with Ethiopian cuisine. The ingredients and aromas are delectable and give the customer a feel of being transported to Ethiopia.