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19 Catt. 3: In re Simple on Wheels

2013 April 17
by JEREMY, C.J.

JEREMY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Cart. CATTLEYA, J., wrote a separate concurrence.

We granted cartiorari on the question of the combination of (1) yebeg wot (a berbere-spiced lamb stew), (2) gomen (buttery collard greens), and (3) tikil gomen (cabbage braised with turmeric) from Simple on Wheels (“SOW”), a mobile gastronomic enterprise purveying Ethiopian offerings.

I. STREET FOOD

Our first inquiry, as always, is whether the offering before us is properly “street food.” If it is, we presume it should be affirmed absent, of course, some grievous error. See In re Big Cheese, 6 Catt. 2 (2012). If it is not, the burden is on the mobile gastronomic enterprise to prove the worth and merit of its creations. See id. We have defined “street food” to be that which “can be cooked in front of you and [is] meant to be eaten with your hands, without forks, while standing up.” In re Eat Wonky, 2 Catt. 5 (2011). We have held that this test provides a starting point but should not be taken to define the scope of “street food.” See In re DC Ballers, 19 Catt. 1 (2013) (quoting In re Hot People Food, 6 Catt. 4 (2012)).

SOW’s cuisine is clearly capable of, and in fact is, “cooked in front of you.” It is less clear, however, that SOW’s food satisfies the second and third factors of our test of “street food.”

It is of course a given with this particular cuisine that it is in a literal sense “meant to be eaten with your hands, without forks.” Our platter was accompanied by a hearty helping of injera. This Cart has never considered whether a meal eaten by means of injera is “meant to be eaten with your hands,” or whether the injera is instead some form of edible utensil and is thus a “fork” of sorts, removing the dish from the scope of “street food.”

However, we need not reach any conclusion on this point at this juncture. Whatever the legal effect of injera on the street-foodness of a particular dish, it is plain in this case that SOW’s particular meal is not meant to be eaten “while standing up.” It is essentially take-out and, as such, requires resort to a bench or, better yet (particularly for the sake of one’s light-colored clothing), a table. Therefore, I must conclude that SOW’s meal is not “street food” as this Cart has traditionally interpreted that term. As a result, the burden rests with SOW to prove the worth of its cuisine. As discussed below, we affirm in part and remand in part.

Simple on Wheels

Simple on Wheels

 II. YEBEG WOT, GOMEN, TIKIL GOMEN

In a city brimming with delicious Ethiopian cuisine, we had long wondered in chambers when Ethiopian fare would hit the food truck scene in earnest. (I would hesitate to call fojol bros.’s gimmicky approach “earnest.”) And so it was with great excitement that we encountered SOW. (A clerk of mine informs me of another truck, Lilypad on the Run, whose day in court will have to wait.)

As noted above, we opted for the combination of (1) a yebeg wot, a spicy, berbere-heavy lamb stew; (2) gomen, or buttery collard greens; and (3) tikil gomen, or lightly-spiced, braised cabbage. This combination, of course, was accompanied by a bounty of injera.

The food was decent. While I’d still prefer to eat at Dukem or Awash, neither serves lunch downtown, and SOW’s cuisine is more than passable and even quite good. The yebeg wot was well spiced and flavorful. Its taste was not dumbed down for the Farragut Square lunch crowd and tasted reasonably authentic. The stew paired well with the collards and cabbage, which were also flavorful and which tasted quite fresh.

I suppose the easiest determinant of an Ethiopian restaurant is its injera. SOW’s injera was good — airy and chewy and sour and teff-y in all the right ways. And the meal came with a lot of it. Of course, this is almost too filling for a weekday, workday lunch break. I spent much of the afternoon in a food coma.

The meal itself was a good deal: $10 for a serving that could easily satiate two.

Yebeg wot with gomen and tikil gomen

Yebeg wot with gomen and tikil gomen

The only downside is, as noted above, the difficulty one encounters in eating this sort of meal streetside in work clothes before going back to work. While finger food in a sense, this is hardly dainty eating. By the end of the meal, as we sat back on a bench in Farragut Square, my sister and I noticed a vibrant reddish tint to our fingertips. Olfactory investigation revealed the pungency of berbere. While this is ordinarily of no great concern to me, this does make for a somewhat tricky business lunch. If I had one suggestion for SOW, it would be this: moist towelettes.

In the end, I would affirm SOW for the flavor and freshness of its food and for the bargain of its price. I would, however, remand for the imperfect translation of this sort of dish to workday street food fare. So be it.

AFFIRMED in part and REMANDED in part to Simple on Wheels for revision.

CATTLEYA, J., concurring.

I have two words to offer on the subject, and the Chief Justice already took them out of my mouth: moist towelettes. And a third word: please.

4 Responses
  1. Pancho permalink
    April 23, 2013

    Could you share their twitter or facebook account? It’s quite hard to find their location online.
    Thanks!

    • CATTLEYA, J. permalink*
      April 24, 2013

      Unfortunately, Simple on Wheels does not have an account on either Twitter or Facebook. We found the food truck by chance at Farragut Square on a Wednesday.

    • Yonathan permalink
      June 9, 2015

      hello SimpleOnWheels@YoniSage is our twitter. Please excuse us for attending the conversation so so late 🙁 but thank you so much for your feed back and looking for us and if you have any question please contact me yoni052002@gmail.com thank you. we

  2. Yonathan permalink
    June 9, 2015

    hello my name is Yonathan and i know am really late to the party more like 2 years but i just really wanted to thank you for your feed back. we have taken all your inputs seriously because that that only thing that matter to us is our customer feed backs and how we can improve the way we serve. Before anything I would like to apologize for putting you into a food coma, it not fun and definitely nor our intention. But one think i would love to communicate to you is that we work really hard to make sure our home made i mean that literally 🙂 we cook everything fresh daily. and we have sized out portions into well fit size to where you can go back to work and function with a warm tummy. once again i would love to thank you for your feed back please keep them coming and we are now opening a location in 7616 Georgia ave NW Washington d.c , and to find us SimpleOnWheels@YoniSage

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