Day 339: Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine

Day 339: Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine

It’s an awesome sight, though maybe a little strange: groups of people huddled around platters covered in colorful mounds of food.  Knives and forks are few and far between.  Instead, hands are busy scooping and shoveling, shaping the food within thin bread.  The smells are thick and warm and comforting, but at the same time unfamiliar.  For Lansing locals who have yet to try it or anyone in search of new flavors, Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine provides an unexpected, yet extremely welcome kind of awesome.

Altu's Ethiopian Cusine - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Nathan Smathers

“When I first started, actually, I wanted to do a dish from each region of Africa – which is still one of my dreams,” she says.

That’s not to say that the menu at Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine is limited in any way; traditional Ethiopian cuisine has something for everyone, regardless of taste or diet requirements.  Each dish is served with either rice or customary flat bread, injera.  Soft and spongy, with a flavor reminiscent of sour dough, the bread is both plate and utensil.  Large pieces of chicken, lamb, or beef mingle with peas, lentils, potatoes, and greens for a meal that is both delicious and filling.  When asked about recommendations and what she prefers, Tadesse is very diplomatic.

“I eat all of these dishes.  Every day I eat here.  I like all of them.  But lima beans – that is one of my favorites.  It’s a personal thing for me – my grandmother used to make them at her house, but if you go to other Ethiopian restaurants you won’t find them.  It’s not traditional, but it’s traditional for me.  And there should be greens with every meal.”

Tadesse has been cooking in a very precise way since she moved from Ethiopia via Ann Arbor almost 30 years ago.

“The one thing that I always tell people, is that this is food prepared from whole foods – no packaged stuff!” beams Tadesse.  “The spices – I buy and roll and put together.  The grains, we cut by hand.  Nothing is pre-done.  It is food prepared with love.  It is what I enjoy cooking.”  This is not an attempt at trendy “healthy eating.”

Altu's Ethiopian Cusine - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Nathan Smathers

This food and this place are obviously her passion.  What began as a tiny closet of a restaurant with 3 little tables (“the kitchen was the biggest part,” Tadesse claims) has grown large enough to house a smoothie bar and small stage where she hosts live local entertainment on weekends.  When speaking of the expansions, she shines with a pride that can only come from years of hard work and dedication to her dream.

“I had always wanted to have my own business, and I enjoyed cooking.  I knew that if I started something with what I know and if offered it to people that I would be successful.”

Located at 1312 Michigan Avenue in East Lansing, just a short walk from Michigan State University’s campus, Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine is open from 11:00AM to 9:00PM Tuesday through Saturday.

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Nathan Smathers, Feature Writer

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The Awesome Mitten was born when I moved back to Michigan from Nashville, TN in September 2010. Almost immediately, I became frustrated. I couldn’t figure out why there weren’t more Michigan residents singing our states praises! I was so irritated, I wrote a Letter to the Editor. Three weeks later, I had started a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a landing page for the website, determined to do something to make Michigan residents aware of all the cool things going on in their own state. Email me: alex@awesomemitten.com