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Silverware, Tables Optional at Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine

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While Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine does offer seating at regular tables and booths, more adventurous diners can opt for an authentic Ethiopian dining experience.

Silverware is optional at Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine. So is dining while seated at traditional tables and chairs.

For the past 12 years, such details have been how the Midtown restaurant offers an authentic slice of Addis Ababa here in Fort Collins.

“A driving factor for me is to share my culture,” said Etage Asrat, who was born in the Ethiopian capital and founded Nyala at 2900 Harvard St. in 2004.

Instead of silverware, customers can use a sourdough flatbread called injera to scoop up Nyala’s fare. Made from a high-nutrient grain called teff, it’s a staple at most Ethiopian meals and is offered with every dish at the restaurant.

Etage Asrat, owner and chef at Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine, began the restaurant 12 years ago to showcase the culture of her home country. (PHOTO: Austin Humphreys/The Coloradoan)

Etage Asrat, owner and chef at Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine, began the restaurant 12 years ago to showcase the culture of her home country.

“It’s a spongy, pancake-like bread,” said server Lea Powell, a Colorado State University student who has worked at Nyala for the past three years. “You just kind of tear pieces off and pick up the food with it. It’s as simple as that.”

While Nyala does offer seating at regular tables and booths, more adventurous diners can opt for an authentic Ethiopian dining experience. That means sitting on stools and eating family-style out of a center basket. There’s about a half dozen of these seating arrangements at Nyala.

“People usually have a lot of questions,” Powell said. “But we usually get people who are intrigued and want to try something new.”

The Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine menu includes a variety of chicken, beef, lamb, trout and vegetarian dishes.

Each course typically features numerous spices, all of which Asrat imports from family still living in Ethiopia. Cardamom, turmeric and rosemary are especially popular ingredients in Ethiopian cooking.

Asrat, who is the restaurant’s only cook, said customers native to Ethiopia typically look for a powdered chickpea dish called shiro that’s another staple of daily eating in the East African country.

“Ethiopian food is spicy, but not from a hot spicy standpoint,” said Asrat, who grew up with 16 siblings and learned how to cook from her mother, Ejig. “It is spicy from a flavor standpoint in that there are a lot of different (complimenting) spices.”

Asrat moved to Fort Collins with her husband and three daughters in 1991 while her husband was pursuing a degree at CSU. She knew little about her new country.

“I heard that Americans once a year for Christmas put all of their furniture outside because they buy new ones,” Asrat said with a laugh. “And that there was gold on the road.

Her family learned quickly as they settled into their Aggie Village apartment, and Asrat later earned her own degree from Regis University, where she was later employed.