Zoma Ethiopian Restaurant opens in Cleveland Heights

by Selam

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — The chefs, trendy eateries and entertainment districts might get the spotlight, but what is a food scene without the small, tucked-away spots that explore faraway places yet feel like home?

After all, these are the places that give a scene flavor and make a town seem like a city.

And, yet, why is a rising food town like Cleveland so lacking when it comes to such a popular cuisine as Ethiopian? For years, Zeleke Belete has been wondering why that is…

Well, no more – because he’s doing something about it.

Belete and his wife Betty Kassa have just opened Zoma Ethiopian Restaurant at 2240 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights.

“I would travel and see so many Ethiopian places in Seattle and cities all over,” says Belete, who moved from Ethiopia in 2004. “People love Ethiopian food all over, but here – they don’t have a chance to try it.”

Empress Taytu — 6125 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland; 216-391-9400; empresstayturestaurantcleveland.com — has dominated the scene for decades when it comes to Ethiopian cuisine. But Belete sees room for growth.

“There is a high demand,” he says. “Not just among people from Ethiopia, but a wide range of people here.”

No doubt – and not just because the African nation’s rich history and culture, art and music has long captured the imagination of the West.The rise in vegetarianism has also helped popularize the cuisine of Ethiopia, which is renowned for its creative preparation of vegetables.

“It is a very poor country so people cannot afford to eat meat – a steak or even a hamburger would be a luxury that most people never get to enjoy,” says Belete, a Shaker Heights resident who also runs a car service business. “So they use spices and combination to create interesting dishes with vegetables.”

There’s another reason: The religiously-diverse country is home to millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, who are among the most observant of religious traditions — including a calendar that calls for up to 200 days of fasting a year.

The 49-seat Zoma, which boasts thatched-hut-themed decor and African artifacts, feature a wide-range of vegetarian and meat dishes, from sambusas to beef, lamb and chicken Ethiopian tibs to a spicy chicken stew called a Doro Wot. Vegetarians will no doubt relish the lentil and chickpea dishes, both of which are a tasty staple in Ethiopian cuisine.

Most of the offerings are eaten with injera – a spongy bread that is used to grab the meat or the vegetables.

“Zoma is a spoon- and fork-free zone,” says Belete. “It’s about communal eating, where people can join together and share food with one another.”

Zoma does not have a liquor license as of now, but Belete says he is working on obtaining one. It does offer a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which takes place after the meal and features green coffee beans roasted to order in a pan.

“The aroma and taste Ethiopian coffee is the best you will find anywhere,” he says. “We make it all from scratch. It will take a more time

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