By Virginia Olson |

When you look at the Sioux Falls ethnic food landscape, there are some glaring holes. Chief among them is the absence of any Thai or Korean food. Missing those varieties is unusual for a city of our size. Sioux City, for instance, has two Thai restaurants.

But there are oddities in our culinary makeup that are bright spots as well. We have an excellent selection of Vietnamese restaurants, a glut of good Mexican food and three Ethiopian eateries.

The oldest of those, Lalibela, has been serving up adventurous east African fare for 13 years.

The restaurant, named after one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, is run by the Endayehu family. Mulugeta Endayehu says he and his wife, Marta, decided to open Lalibela at 1001 W. 11th St. near Black Sheep Coffee House because there were no Ethiopian restaurants in the city.

“My wife is a very good cook,” Endayehu said. “All of our family and friends kept telling us to open a restaurant that served Ethiopian food because nothing of its kind could be found in Sioux Falls.”

Tradition, culture and taste are the aim, with authentic Ethiopian vegetarian, lamb, beef and chicken options. And the most unique part of the experience at Lalibela is the manner in which you eat your meal.

For starters, there are no utensils; guests use their hands. The food is placed on a special bread called injera that is used to scoop and eat themeal.

“It’s finger food,” Endayehu said. “Our restaurant makes a real effort to explain all there is in the eating experience, and no one should feel uncomfortable giving it a try.”

Adding to that, the food is served on a large circular platter called a gebeta and is meant to be passed around the table.

“Food is communal and meant to be shared,” Endayehu said. “You never eat alone in the Ethiopian culture.”

According to Endayehu, the perfect way to get to know the Ethiopian cuisine is the Beyaynetu, a combination platter of vegetarian dishes($10.95). And one of the tastiest items on the menu is the Beef Tib ($9.95), a slow-cooked steak flavored by jalapeno pepper, onion, garlic, tomato and other seasonings.

“Our dishes are not hot but just have a good mix of spices to make them spicy,” he said.

But if you do want heat, the restaurant’s best spicy dish is Awaze Tibs ($10.95) made with spiced beef, jalapeno and other hot peppers.

Ethiopian beer ($4) and wine ($4) also are available, and Lalibela offers live traditional music during some holidays.

Despite a loyal customer base, Endayehu thinks lots of Sioux Falls residents haven’t yet discovered the restaurant and the Ethiopian experience.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to try a new place to eat when you aren’t familiar with the food,” Endayehu said. “Lalibela showcases Ethiopian cuisine and is one of Sioux Falls’ best-kept secrets.”

Question: What is Ethiopian injera?

Answer: Injera is a bread. It is also a utensil. Injera is essential to the meal. In Ethiopia, this spongy flat bread is used to scoop up meat and vegetable stews. Injera also lines the tray on which the stews are served, soaking up their juices as the meal progresses. When this edible tablecloth is eaten, the meal is officially over. Injera is made with teff, a tiny round grain found in Ethiopia.

Q: If guests lack scooping experience, can they use a fork to eat their dinner?

A: Yes, utensils can be requested.

Q: What is a good way to end your meal?

A: Enjoy a cup of Ethiopian coffee ($2). It is similar to espresso.

Location: 1001 W. 11th St.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

Phone: (605) 331-4595

Source: Argus Leader

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