Reaching for Ethiopian food
Food & Drink / Who would have guessed that Honolulu’s first pop-up restaurant would be Ethiopian? Taking over J2 Fusion every Thursday is Meron Spencer, neé Meron Girma Tsige, who creates an Ethiopian three-course prix fixe dinner for $25. Selections include Beef Wot (a spicy saffron-stewed beef) and Lamb Tibs (grilled lamb with rosemary). A hearty vegan option includes lentils, beets, and collards. All the dishes are served atop injera, a slightly sour, spongy crepe.
These Ethiopian nights began rather serendipitously. “Meron has always been an entertainer,” says her husband James Spencer. For years, they’d fill their cramped University of Hawaii faculty apartment with people until the neighbors complained (James is a professor in UH’s Urban and Regional Planning Department), and Meron would serve up food that she’s been cooking since she was 8. The oldest of six siblings, she was enlisted early on by her mother to help cook for the family.
But as any chef and restaurateur knows, cooking for friends and family doesn’t always translate into a successful restaurant. So when the opportunity at J2 Fusion opened up, it seemed a perfect test of whether Honolulu indeed had the market for Ethiopian food. So far, it seems promising; more than 200 diners attended Meron’s first three dinners.
As with any new food establishment, Meron and James are still working out some issues like sourcing. They order many of the spices online, but their current supply of teff, used for making injera, was hand-carried in 50-pound bags on the plane after a recent trip to Washington, DC. Then there’s also the issue of labor. “Nobody knows how to cook the food,” Meron says. “It takes [a] long time to teach people.” Not that she’s unwilling to train them. Rather, she sees it as an opportunity to “teach my culture… exchange,” she says. “Food is sharing. I think [it’s] important.”Ethiopian Thursdays at J2 Asian Fusion, 3441 Waialae Avenue, (5:30-9:30pm), [email: AddisAbabaHawaii], 628-8461 Reservations suggested, but not required. BYOB.