Remembering Food as an Art: Uchenna Ethiopian Restaurant Brings Origins Back to the Dining Experience

At the Picasso exhibit in Spain, the art on display would never be void of a short description of each piece: the year it was painted, what Picasso was trying to convey, and the historical or emotional context that the shape and color arose from. When we dine at a restaurant, why do we not leave our empty plates of food with an understanding of its history and context? Is food not a form of art as well? Uchenna Ethiopian restaurant not only feels like a museum, with a variety of visual and historic art decorating the walls, but the detailed menu and means in which the food is served allow for a greater understanding and knowledge of Ethiopia.

Photo by Becca Stine

The three pillars for an experience at Uchenna Restaurant, the only Ethiopian restaurant in Colorado Springs, are: “Live. Love. Eat Well.” The delicious and authentic Ethiopian cuisine served to customers at Uchenna is paired with a provided history of the food, fun facts about Ethiopia, and a brief story of the owner, Maya “The Mother.” The first page of the menu gives initial understanding of Ethiopia as a country,before customers order food. Maya creates a space where customers can get a sense of Ethiopia by indulging in incredibly rich and flavorful food and learning about the origins of the taste, flavor, and textures.

Aside from the few rice dish options, most entrees at Uchenna are served with Injera bread: a soft, pancake-like bread that is used to scoop food into one’s mouth, acting as the Ethiopian equivalent to Naan bread or Roti Prata in Indian cuisine. “It is the best Injera I’ve had,” said junior Paulina Ukrainets. The Uchenna website reads, “Injera Teff is a fine grain, about the size of a poppy seed, which comes in various different colors from white and red to dark brown. As a native species to Ethiopia, teff thrives in difficult climates with a physiology that can withstand high heat and bright light. As such, teff compromises the staple grain of Ethiopian cuisine.” This provides both a history and context for a staple food consumed at the restaurant.

Injera provides a base for the food served at Uchenna, and it is also the means with which food is consumed, like an alternative to silverware. This gluten-free bread  seems to characterize the “Live” element of Uchenna’s motto, as without silverware provided, customers are expected to eat Maya’s Ethiopian cuisine the way it is eaten back in its place of origin. In this way, it is as if customers are better respecting the food through the awareness of the way it should be consumed. Not only does Injera have a distinct taste and texture, but it is also extremely high in nutritional value: a single serving of Injera has almost no sugar and nearly 12 grams of protein. The website reads, “Uchenna was born offering healthy, organic and gluten-free foods inspired by the traditions and history of Ethiopia, Israel, and the Mediterranean.”

The menu consists of a selection of salads, sandwiches, “vegan paradise” Injera appetizers, entrees that all come with Injera, and a choice in spice level and organic meat (lamb, chicken, beef, shrimp, or scallops). The Chicken Tibs entrée comes served on a woven straw basket with rolled Injera on the side. The chicken is grilled perfectly, coated in a layer of moist spice and flavor, and accompanied by a yellow chickpea curry that holds a unique spice of its own. The rolled Injera allows for a perfect counter to the spice and adds a nice chewy texture.

Uchenna Ethiopian restaurant has been open for eight years now, introducing residents of Colorado Springs to a culture, cuisine, and tradition they may not otherwise get to know. The website says, “From humble beginnings, Maya, the mother behind this amazing restaurant, would offer friends, family, and even passing strangers the food she prepared everyday with love and tradition. After much praise and gentle nudging, the family finally decided to walk a path towards sharing our unique and traditional flavors with the greater regional area.”

The quaint, warm, and thoroughly decorated restaurant allows for a comfortable dining experience, as if you were entering Maya’s home yourself. “I am blessed with two mothers,” the website reads, “America and Ethiopia.” Although food and drink orders are not always taken by Maya, she is always the one to bring the ordered dishes to customers’ tables, offering a gentle smile and a willingness to share her world with those seated at her clean white tablecloths.

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