As I’ve mentioned many times on my blog, if there’s one type of ethnic cuisine that I wish I had easy access to, it would be Ethiopian. I was completely spoiled for amazing Ethiopian fare when I lived within driving distance of Rahel Ethiopian in Los Angeles. I’ve made my own at home many times (using recipes from Vegan Lunch Box and Vegan Eats World). However, nothing beats having it at a restaurant, especially when you consider the convenience of not having to make your own spice mix, infused oil, several types of stews, and injera for scooping all of them up.
So when my husband and I were in Orlando recently, I was only too happy when he suggested that we hit up Nile Ethiopian Restaurant for dinner. Located on busy International Drive (known as I-Drive), it’s situated in a strip mall and surrounded by theme parks, restaurants, and hotels. While the area doesn’t seem like the likeliest of places to find mouthwatering and authentic Ethiopian cuisine, looks can be deceiving. Nile isn’t a vegetarian restaurant, but the plant-based stews on the menu are all made with infused oil (not dairy butter) and are vegan-friendly.
The interior of the restaurant is a large room with standard tables and chairs (and oddly a television playing, which felt more like a sports bar than a sit-down restaurant). Then there are several small rooms made with dividers for eating in a somewhat private setting on small stools and sharing a meal on a basket dining table called a mesob.
David and I tucked into one of the rooms and ordered the Taste of Nile Vegetarian platter to share for $29.95. It included portions of several of their vegan items and was a chance to try multiple things. They were very busy that night, and so the service was on the slow side. I wondered if dining in one of the rooms was a bad idea on such a night, and at one point thought we’d been forgotten altogether. However, after waiting for a while, the man who seated us came in to see if we’d been served, and before too much longer we were brought our drinks and then dinner.
As is typical, the wots were served on injera, a sour, spongy bread, in addition to a basket full of more bread to use in place of utensils. Their injera was light in color and texture, almost crepe-like in its consistency. The sourness of the bread didn’t overwhelm and allowed the wots to take center stage.
Tikel Gomen, made with cabbage and carrots, was slow cooked with garlic and ginger. The soft, moist cabbage was mild but hearty. Gomen, made with collard greens, is always one of my favorites. Cooked with onions, garlic, and oil, the rich collards melt in your mouth with a vaguely metallic quality.
The Kik Alecha and Shiro, both made with split peas, and the Misir Wat, made with red lentils, were smooth and creamy. They were cooked with onions and garlic, and the red lentils had the addition of a red pepper sauce.
I usually opt out of Tomato Fitfit, which is made with ripped pieces of injera, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, oil, and lemon dressing. It sometimes feels like it’s just a way to use up yesterday’s old injera, and I’ve never been much of a soggy bread fan. However, the dish at Nile is different. It has a strong citrus flavor. (It tasted like lime to me, but it says lemon on the menu.) The fresh, bright fruitiness was a wonderful compliment to the spicier and more melded flavors of the other wots.
Azifa is a cold lentil dish made with onions, green peppers, lemon juice, and Ethiopian mustard. The mustard must have a fair amount of horseradish in it, because it was the kind of dish that clears your sinuses. Although I am a horseradish fan, I definitely couldn’t eat a whole platter of it. However, it was a strong, pungent kick to have as an occasional bite.
The plate was finished off with a romaine lettuce salad for fresh, neutral bites to clean the palate from spicier flavors.
Because Ethiopian food often uses the same spices (berbere) and the same infused oil (niter kibbeh) for all of the dishes, the stews can sometimes taste a little same-y. While the vegetables are different in each dish, the overall tone can start to feel pretty similar. Luckily that wasn’t the case at Nile. All of the stews were markedly different from one another. Each one had its own layers of flavor that balanced and complimented each other well. Plus, the wots were not too oily or heavy as can be the case at some restaurants.
After polishing off our wots, we leaned back very comforted by the authentic and satisfying flavors. In an area of Orlando known for spills and thrills more than gomen and wots, Nile is a jewel!