Slide Show | A Cosmopolitan Setting for Ethiopian FoodInjera, a traditional flatbread, is the foundation — literally — for every dish at Benyam.
OCTOBER 12, 2017 Hungry City
By LIGAYA MISHAN
The light bulbs are yolk-yellow, painted with black-dot eyes and Edvard Munch-like mouths, alternately anguished, dopey, malevolent and cackling. They look like tethered yellow ghosts, sitting on a shelf behind the counter at Benyam, an Ethiopian restaurant that opened in July in Harlem.
The food here is traditional, beautifully so, unchanged in spirit from the childhood dishes remembered by the restaurant’s owners, four siblings from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. But the dining room is coolly cosmopolitan, crowded with street art by luminaries such as Meres One(those troublemaking light bulbs) and Korn (his signature bubble letter K). From Invader, a French eminence grise of the graffiti world, there’s a poster inscribed “To Benyam, the best Ethiopian cuisine in NYC.”
The siblings — Helina Girma, the chef; Marta Malavazi, who helps in the kitchen; Miku Girma, the curator and a street artist himself; and Beniam Asfaw, a graphic designer and the soft-spoken, unobtrusive host — commute from Midtown, Queens and New Jersey to converge here in upper Harlem. This is their first joint effort, and already a standout: While the menu is almost identical to those found at other Ethiopian restaurants, the flavors are brighter and the textures more distinct.
Vegetables come fresh from the Grassroots Farmers Market, a few blocks away. The meats yield. A welcome heat announces itself in almost every dish, like a sly nudge in the ribs.