I don’t normally generalise, but eating in a restaurant is a pretty nice thing. You choose the food you want (most hosts are not aware of what you like or don’t like) and you don’t have to cook it or wash up. You chat with friends. The staff are nice to you. If they’re not, you get to chat shit about them with the said friends. Maybe some places are more incompetent than others, but maybe you and company might be annoying enough for me not to be sympathetic to anything that happens to you. Who knows.
The main problem is that restaurants cost money, and you probably couldn’t get your Parliament to nationalise and gratuitise all the restaurants that are worth it. So if you do get to go to a restaurant from time to time, you should probably make the most of it.
Now Godjo is an Ethopian restaurant on rue de l’école Polytechnique, Paris. Their servings are enormous. Actually, “servings” is misleading; it’s more like a huge round metal dish into which they put all the food your table ordered. The food is mostly red, brown and yellow: portions of various stews (wat) served on a giant, thick, round pancake (“injera”).
They have glasses, but no forks. Or knifes. Or spoons. They do give you little side-plates with more big Ethiopian pancakes on them and you also get napkins. The plates and pancakes are round, the napkins and pancakes are folded. I don’t know of any non-circular pancakes anyway. If you have been keeping up, you will have correctly guessed that the idea is to tear bits of the pancakes and grab some food with it.
“Aha,” thinks the sandwich and panini eater, “I too eat with my hands.” No, dear sandwich and panini eater, you may think you eat with your hands, but those neatly cut bread things without anything spilling out don’t count for shit. Sorry, but that’s the truth and you know it. Likewise, kebabs, falafels and their Mexican cousins rely on paper or clever wrapping techniques and are therefore only further examples of what social scientists call mediated food experience.
The food experience at Godjo is distinctly unmediated. You deal with the pancakes directly, enjoying their warmth and touch in your hands instead of restricting them to your mouth. And remember that the different dishes are all served in one plate: you don’t want to be left behind as everyone grabs what they can. So while the lemony pancakes are thick, in the heat of the moment you do end up with sauce slipping onto your hands.
God, I miss their lentils. The red chili lentil stew has the perfect Godjo balance between thick and liquid so that it is both juicy and satisfying. But the lentil mousse it what it is all about; neither watery nor rich, it has a surprisingly flashy green colour you learn to love for its flavour, a combination of earthy lentils, light creamy sauce and hard-working spices. As may be obvious by now, I could go on with the praise, but hopefully the lentil example is enough to make you have lunch there next time you’re in Paris. It is exciting food, different but easy to get into.