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Unique Family Meals in the Midlands

Harambe

Doro wot with injera bread at Harambe Ethiopian Restaurant

While there are literally dozens upon dozens of places to try in the Midlands, few encapsulate a fundamental part of the eating experience that is slowly becoming lost: the family meal. These days, it often seems like it takes special events like holidays, potlucks, seafood boils and farm-to-table dinners to bring people together to share a variety of dishes at the table. While we grow more independent, other cultures still embrace the idea of having a family meal on a daily basis. Here are three places in the Midlands that lean into such traditions.

Hands-On Dining at Harambe Ethiopian Restaurant

There are few cuisines that get into the act of sharing more than Ethiopian food. Fortunately in the Midlands we have Harambe Ethiopian Restaurant, which excels at the shared dining experience with it’s large format trays of flatbread and curries. 

Known as injera, the flatbread is a soft, spongy sourdough made with teff flour. A lesser-known ancient grain, teff is a common cereal grass in Ethiopia that currently holds the status as the smallest grain in the world. The batter is fermented before being cooked, ending up somewhat like a pancake as it forms small holes. It’sideal for soaking up the various curries and stews that are paired with the bread. It’s got a distinctly tart, yogurt-like taste that can be surprising at first, but serves as a perfect foil for the hearty meat stews and generously spiced vegetables dishes.

At Harambe, you can get a large injera served at the table with a variety of meat options, such as doro wot (a chicken curry largely considered the national dish of Ethiopia), or vegetable sides including stewed cabbage, buttery collards known as gomen or red lentils cooked down in a spice mixture known as berbere. 

The eating is messy fun. Besides the injera that the different dishes are served on, additional injera is provided for the table to dig in. There’s a lot of joy in ripping the bread apart and picking up the stews while you talk with friends and share your feelings on each item.

Harambe Ethiopian Restaurant is at 2006 Senate St.

Tableside Grilling at Hero Korean Steak House

Cook-it-yourself experiences might be a little counterintuitive to eating out. Most of us eat out so that we can avoid cooking at home. What’s so interesting about a lot of East Asian culture is that eating out often involves cooking for yourself. Whether it’s barbecuing or enjoying a big table spread of hot pot, do-it-yourself table culture is a big thing. Places like Hero provide a chance to enjoy the act of cooking without the hassle of forethought and preparation.

Hero Korean Steak House brings the popular barbecue experience to life. Ordering is simple. You choose from a host of meats — marinated and plain — which are brought to you. A piping hot charcoal grill is prepared at the center of the table where you quickly grill your thin cuts of meat. Some of the choices include galbi, a classic Korean marinated short rib, sam gyup sal, thin cuts of pork belly, and cha dol bak yi, a high quality marbled beef. 

Banchan, small Korean side dishes, are provided all around the table. These little vegetable dishes are perfect for adding texture, brightness and contrast to all the grilled items.

Because of the amount of banchan and meat options at the restaurant, Hero is great for large groups where you can order several items to try a large amount of things at once. Much like a good Sunday barbecue, this is very much a plan-ahead kind of meal where you’ll want to kick back, order an ice cold beer and enjoy. 

Hero Korean Steak House is at 6634 Two Notch Rd.

Making the Lazy Susan Cool Again at Sun Ming

Family meals are a lost art at restaurants. Most times when we eat out we order by the plate and stick to our own spaces. We might split an appetizer or something like a pizza, but in general, we don’t seek to order as a group. 

East Asian cooking often centers entirely around the family setting. The combination of a rice, a soup, a meat and some vegetables are always the foundation of a meal, one that is shared with the entire family. While Sun Ming still operates as a plate-by-plate restaurant, they are one of the few places not just in the Midlands, but anywhere, that perfectly employs the Lazy Susan, a turntable that sits in the middle of typically round tables. 

Invented in the early 1900s, Lazy Susans were a hot fad for dinner parties briefly in the 1910s before falling out of fashion. Despite longterm commercial failure, it’s always had a place in Chinese restaurants, which were very much about sharing. It remained a common fixture until the fast-casual version of Chinese restaurants became commonplace, taking us out of the restaurant and back to our homes. 

Sun Ming keeps the tradition alive locally, serving a wide variety of both American Chinese takeout favorites along with a special menu full of Sichuan-style dishes. The restaurant is an ideal place to take a large group and sample an array of uncommonly seen items like spicy pork in a clay pot, stir fry lamb with cumin and more that can only be found on a special menu in-house (the menu isn’t even available online on their website). 

Sun Ming Chinese Restaurant is at 7509 St Andrews Rd. in Irmo.

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