Goorsha is an Ethiopian restaurant in the heart of Durham. The name comes from an act that is part of Ethiopian culture. I’ll let Goorsha restaurant explain it:
“In Ethiopian culture, friendship, honor and love are expressed by feeding each other – an act known as a goorsha. To perform a goorsha, simply place a bit of food into another’s mouth with your right hand. A goorsha is a sign of acceptance and appreciation – like a hug between friends.”
Goorsha is one of those cute little spots that I always pass, but never get a chance to stop by. Being set back from the sidewalk may have its benefits when the sun is out, the temperature is warm, and everyone is dining on the patio, but when it’s cold and rainy, stepping past tables and chairs just to check out the menu may be a bit more challenging for the random passersby.
Thankfully, my friend Jess had picked out this gem for girls night, so we were all committed to our dinner destination. Plus, checking out the menu in advance ensured that we were intrigued enough by this Ethiopian restaurant to trade our pajamas for real clothes despite the grey skies and incessant rain. And that was a seriously big ask today!
When I arrived, Jess and Kelly were already perusing the menu and catching up on the latest and greatest. Our server was quick to come over and take our drink order. Kelly went with red wine and I indulged in a mango Fresca, while Jess took a decidedly more adventurous turn with a chai spice cocktail that she seemed to enjoy, equally for its flavor and its creativity.
As we were a table of adventurous eaters and sharers, we decided to order in rounds so we could sample a range of things without engaging in unnecessary gluttony. We kicked off round one with two appetizers: the sambusa ($5) — a crispy pastry stuffed with lentils, onions, garlic, and jalapenos — and the kashka ($7) — cornbread layered with collard greens and beef chunks. Out of the two, the sambusa was my dish of choice. While the pastry was thick and required a bit of heavy knife work, it was crispy all the way through and offset the soft lentil filling quite nicely. The cornbread in the kashka was also quite crispy, despite sitting at the bottom of the plate, but the beef and greens were less exciting. They lacked the depth of flavor we were expecting. Kelly remarked that the dish was quite Southern in its ingredients, which locals may appreciate. Interestingly, collards are very common in Ethiopian cooking.
In between lots of gabbing, we were able to decide on round two — a meat entree that included two sides. While Jess had read that the vegan dishes were stronger by most accounts, we couldn’t walk away without ordering something a carnivore would enjoy, so we decided on the doro wat ($13) — a hearty dish involving chicken stewed in a sauce that included cardamom and ginger. Kelly was particularly interested in the reference to a single chicken leg and a single hard-boiled egg. There was clearly more knife work ahead to split up these ingredients amongst the three of us. For our sides, we went with the azifa ($3 if ordered separately) — seasoned lentils — and the beet root salad ($3) — cubed beets mixed and tossed with other vegetables and dressed lightly.
This round came out in a beautiful display surrounded by injera — the typical Ethiopian spongy bread used to pick up any dish and soak up any sauce. While I’m not a big injera enthusiast, the ladies took to it quite well, which is good because the sauce was excellently seasoned and needed to be thoroughly wiped off the plate. The entree did indeed arrive with a single leg and a single egg, so my utensils came in handy. When we informed our server that he gave us the sinig karya ($3) — a stuffed jalapeno — by mistake, he apologized quickly and promptly came back with our originally requested beets. With every side containing jalapeno, we got significant heat, though not in a way that overwhelmed the palate.
We had the best of intentions to hit the vegan dishes for round three, but we decided not to let the menu get the better of us. Of course, my one request for the night was to make sure we ended with dessert, so we were glad that we had a few to choose from. Dessert isn’t traditionally part of Ethiopian cuisine, but most Ethiopian restaurants in the U.S. do offer dessert. I must admit that I was at first surprised to see the cheesecake and tiramisu options, but later learned that due to the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, there are Italian influences in parts of Ethiopian culture. This is most evident in things like dessert menus, because without the existence of traditional Ethiopian desserts, Ethiopians are most familiar with Italian desserts. What struck my eye on my visit to Goorsha was an apple dessert that was essentially a sambusa stuffed with apples, which was exactly what we needed to end on. The pastry was again quite thick, but the crisp of it was a lovely foil for the soft chunks of apple inside. I could hardly take more than a few bites, but it was just enough sweetness to offset the heat and the spice from earlier in the meal.
As a take on modern Ethiopian, I wasn’t able to identify too much of the modern aspect at Goorsha. The flavors are solid, but we missed the spice level Ethiopian food is known for. Perhaps they didn’t make our food as spicy because we weren’t Ethiopian, or perhaps they temper the spice on all of their dishes. We enjoyed the food for what it was, but it seemed much more traditional Ethiopian than anything else.
910 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701
Hoi Ning Ngai is the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill. She’s a recent transplant to the Triangle, a native of New York, and a lover of all things bacon, ice cream, and Paris. Follow her life adventures on Instagram at @hoiningngai!