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Eating My Way Through University City: Selam Ethiopian Restaurant

Natalie McLaury cooks and writes a food and recipe blog called The Sweets Life.

When was the last time you ate a meal completely with your hands?

Maybe last summer, at the Cardinals game, when you chowed down on hot dogs and peanuts. Or perhaps on pizza night, when you grabbed a slice and didn’t bother with a fork or knife. Still, most of us find ourselves pulling out flatware on a regular basis, neatly cutting food into smaller pieces or sipping soup with the help of a spoon. At Selam Ethiopian Restaurant, found at 549 Rosedale Ave, at the east end of the Loop, utensils aren’t optional; they’re nonexistent!            

My husband Ryan and I are always eager to try a new cuisine, and after months of passing the bright yellow sign for Selam, we finally stopped in for lunch one Saturday. Arriving around noon, there was only one other occupied table and we began to wonder if we’d made a mistake. However, by the time we finished our meal, several other parties had arrived, proving that there are indeed quite a few fans of Ethiopian in the area.

The menu has several pages of lamb, beef, chicken, and vegetarian dishes, but on the day we were there, they were out of lamb. We instead ordered one of the beef stews as well as the vegetarian combo, which gave us the chance to try all six vegetarian dishes.

In the short time while we waited for our lunch, we gazed around the small restaurant, noting the unique touches. While the space itself might be described as rustic, the owners’ flair for their country was apparent in the décor and the plates, which were inscribed “I Love Ethiopia.” It was obvious that a trip to Selam is not about the ambience, but about enjoying an authentic Ethiopian meal.

Authentic it was! Our server brought out a giant platter and set it before us. On it were eight different piles, all sitting atop a large round piece of what appeared to be a bread-like substance. Next, he placed a second plate on our table with additional pieces of the bread rolled up. Suspecting it was our first time eating Ethiopian food, he kindly informed us that the bread was called injera and that we were to use it to pick up the food and dish it into our mouths.

Tentatively, we ripped off little pieces of the bread, pinching it between our fingers and scooping up the food on the platter. I first tried the Gomen—chopped collard greens cooked with onion, garlic, and ginger then laced with green peppers— and was instantly pleased. I was surprised to find that the injera was mildly sticky and sour. Later research proved my tastebuds were correct—injera is made from fermented teff flour, hence the sour taste I detected. 

Little by little, we tore away at the injera on our plate, digging into the various piles of food. I discovered I liked the beef stew as well as the different vegetarian dishes, which included everything from lentils to cabbage to yellow split peas. All of the food was rich in flavor, and much of it had a spicy kick to it. When we finished our side dish of injera, we began ripping away at the injera that had been sitting underneath each of the dishes. A little soggy, it still proved to be a sufficient vehicle in transporting the food from the platter to our mouths.

By the end of the meal, both Ryan and I concluded we were glad we had finally tried Ethiopian cuisine. Adventurous eater or not, I think most people would be able to find something on the menu that they’d be willing to try, and if nothing else, should come for the experience of eating with injera instead of forks and knives! We will certainly be returning to Selam, or trying Queen of Sheba, another University City Ethiopian restaurant. But one thing is sure—we’ll bring hand wipes next time!   

My other U-City restaurant reviews; Bobo Noodle House, click ; Boosters Cafe, click To find more restaurant reviews, and lots of recipes, check out my blog The Sweets Life

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