Photo: Hugo Yu
New York is not an injera town, which I know because I grew up in Injeratown, USA, also known as Washington, D.C. There, countless corner stores and restaurants well into the Maryland and Virginia suburbs offer the brown flatbread, sometimes so fresh it’s still warm, thanks to the area’s large diaspora of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants.
There are only about 20 Ethiopian restaurants across New York City. I’ve been to almost all of them, and injera is often the weakest part of the meal. Many places make it themselves — either by choice or necessity — but the fermented teff-flour batter is famously finicky, so quality and consistency can vary wildly. I’ve had square injera, thin injera, and injera that was so white I wondered if it included any teff at all. The worst offense is dry injera, which can happen within a day, leading to cracks along the edges and a crumbly texture that undoes the bread’s sauce-soaking appeal.
I knew as soon as I saw the injera platter at Bersi — a vegan Ethiopian restaurant that opened in Greenpoint this summer — that it was the good stuff. It had the deep-umber shade that speaks to a high percentage of teff; its height was slightly thick from adequate leavening, also evident in the pattern of fine (but not too fine) bubbles across the top, referred to as “eyes” in Amharic. Picking it up to unravel a roll, I noted the soft, supple elasticity — evidence it had been made that afternoon.
It’s prepared fresh by chef Bersabeh Ayele, who goes by Bersi and who owns the restaurant along with Hailu Woldeselassie. Ayele immigrated to New York 15 years ago and started making injera in 2015, first for people in her church community and then for a few Ethiopian restaurants. The conditions in New York are very different from those in Ethiopia, and her recipe is the result of much trial and error. She prefers a darker-colored injera herself, but the extra teff flour required does make it more expensive than one cut with more wheat.
Injera both lines the plate over which stews, veggies, and salads are arranged and is the utensil for consuming everything. Bersi’s injera is particularly suited to absorb whatever comes its way while maintaining the barrier between fingers and food: misir wot (saucy spiced lentils) surrounded by collard greens, sauteed mushrooms, string-bean-and-carrot stew, and shimbra asa, firm chickpea-flour fritters simmered in a legitimately spicy berbere sauce.
But there is no more compatible partner for fresh injera than shiro, a smooth chickpea sauce best served straight from the stove since it thickens as it cools. At Bersi, it’s delivered to the table in a small clay pot, furiously bubbling under its lid before it’s on the plate. When the fresh injera is dragged through, the shiro sinks into the pores and clings all around. It is a perfect bite.
Everything at Bersi is vegan. Photo: Hugo Yu