Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ethiopian Eats

Ethiopia and food. Where to begin? Ethiopia and India are the two countries that we have wanted to visit just for the food for years. While we had a wonderful time in Ethiopia, we will probably both lay on our death beds one day and say, "Do you remember the food in Ethiopia? It was to die for." Then we'll die. That's how good the food was.

Number of other foreigners we met who feel the same way about Ethiopian food? None. Most of them hated it. Mostly because nearly all food in Ethiopia is eaten with a special bread called injera. It is made of a local grain called teff, to which they add yeast and water, let it sit for three days, then cook it into giant pancakes. I would describe it as tangy. Enough intro. Now to food pictures.

Like everything else in Ethiopia, yogurt is a bit different. Or so Tara tells me. Like injera bread, it is a bit more sour. But, most surprising, they add chili powder instead of sugar. The waiter looked at Tara like she was crazy when she started adding sugar, then brought over the chili powder spice mix and showed her how to add it. Oh, and they all look like this one, making me think that they just cover the milk lid with foil and put it out in the sun for a day or two until it ferments.
Sometimes in American Ethiopian restaurants, they will serve carrot cake or baklava. We never saw carrot cake in the entire country, so we have no idea why that is common in the US. We found baklava in only one place in Addis Ababa, but it was the best baklava that I have ever eaten. Very much worth all 60 cents that we paid, which is very expensive by Ethiopian standards.
Back on the street, I found a lady selling small bags of unidentifiable crunchy things. I immediate bought a bag despite the high cost of 6 cents, which was probably just because we were tourists. They tasted like unidentifiable crunchy things, sort of like the fried things you put in Chinese soup.
For lunch on our first day, we went to the brilliantly named Addis Ababa restaurant in Addis Ababa. None of the waiters spoke English, and the only menu translation they had was incomprehensible, but we understood the word combination in two of the dishes, so we got those. We had no way of knowing that we had ordered two combinations of five meat dishes each, resulting in this plate of ten amazing meat dishes. You can see the typical serving system of putting puddles of food on top of injera, so at the end you get to eat your plate which has been soaking up juice for the whole meat. Yum!
I'm sad to report that despite our best efforts, we were unable to finish the entire meal. It would have easily fed six normal people, which is three normal Andys, but even eating to capacity, enough remained to feed at least a small dog. We liked the restaurant so much that we took a picture of it.
Ethiopia has cafes everywhere. Though they claim that they were never occupied, I suspect that the cafes are a result of the years when Italy "controlled" the country. Many cafes had something on the menu called peanut tea, so I ordered it. This was when we first learned that "tea" in Ethiopia just means that it is hot and isn't coffee. Peanut tea is just peanut butter and hot water blended together, which you then sugar to taste. In my case, a lot of sugar. But it is then like drinking liquid peanut butter and a really amazing drink.
Fruit juice is also very popular in Ethiopia, but also unlike any other fruit juice. They take the fruit and blend it with such density that you have to eat it with a spoon. Like a smoothie, but thicker. These are papaya and pineapple. The pineapple comes out a bit thinner because the fruit is so juicy, but you can see what I mean with the papaya one. You can then add sugar and lime if you like.
And another option is to mix juice flavors. Here is Tara with an avocado and pineapple juice. Avocado is a very popular flavor there and is just about like drinking guacamole through a straw. Or with a spoon. With sugar added.
A very popular dish for breakfast is firfir. Firfir is just injera bread in sauce, served on injera bread. A lot of injera. I timed it. It took 14 minutes and 22 seconds for this dish to go through my digestive system.
The beer of Tara's choice in Ethiopia is St. George's. She was told that this is a woman's beer in one city, but in the next city, all the men were drinking it. She was relieved to be back in a country where the beer is normal sized and not in giant bottles that make her drunk. However, she also tried tej, the local honey wine. Apparently, it is stronger than in America because she could barely walk after a tiny glass.
A popular dish from southern Ethiopia is Kitfo. This is seasoned ground beef, normally served raw. However, we were with a local who told us that you would have to be stupid to eat raw beef in Ethiopia due to parasites, even at the fancy restaurant where we were eating. So, we had ours slightly cooked. They give everyone a long handled spoon made of a cow horn to eat it, which is fun.
This is a shot of rolled injera with a serving of shiro. Shiro encompasses a large range of dishes made from mushed beans and various seasonings, then cooked in a little hot pot. Almost always tasty.
One morning, we were trying to order breakfast. One waiter spoke a bit of English, so he described a dish to us as bread with tomato and milk. Not sure why we thought that sounded good, but it turned out to be a sour cream like substance (which is called yogurt as well, as we later discovered), and was gross. It looked nice, though.
To make up for that dish, we also ordered fitera with honey and got this cracker-like pizza shape with honey. Not bad. And much better than the above.
In the Simien Mountains, we met some very kind American researchers. They shared their mac and cheese with Tara, which, despite not being terrific Ethiopian food, made Tara's week. Thanks, researchers!
Also thanks to the researchers, we discovered the full breakfast. We at first thought this meant a big breakfast that would make us full, but it turns out that full (also spelled fule, but rarely fool) is a mix of tomato, bean, onions, and spices that is served with bread to dip into it. Really good and we had it for many breakfasts.
Ethiopia is apparently lightyears ahead in cookie technology. Most of the cookies there come with two, side-by-side cream flavors. Part of the excitement is that you don't know what flavors until you open the package. This one was orange and vanilla, like creamsicle. Tasty.
Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days for Ethiopian Orthodox. That means basically vegan (I say basically because we never completely figured out the rules). All restaurants serve fasting dishes on those days and many serve only fasting dishes. Some places are better than others and fasting days seem to let chefs show their creativity. The firfir on this plate was a weird vanilla-doused injera. Not great, but high creativity points.
Macchiato is very popular. I tried to make Tara explain the difference to me between a cappuccino and a macchiato, as I see the main difference that a cappuccino is bigger (at least in Ethiopia). She never gave me a satisfactory answer, but she did drink a few macchiatos even though she doesn't really love coffee. Ethiopia being the birthplace of coffee convinced her to try.
One popular "tea" is to serve hot Tang. Orange, mango, or pineapple. Always with the option to add sugar. "Excuse me, would you like some sugar in that sugar water?
Many bakeries exist, mostly serving nastly Italian pastries. For my mom's 93rd birthday, we ate a piece of cake for her. Maybe she isn't quite 93, but getting close...
One day when our stomachs were still full of injera from the previous meal, we ordered a "fasting" (vegan) pizza. Not bad--we especially like the addition of potato.
We saw on a few menus something called Sprice. We just assumed this was meant to say Sprite, but then learned that sprice is a mix of tea and coffee. Tara got it, took a tiny sip, and promptly dumped a cup of sugar in to make it drinkable. I hate coffee and refused to even try it.
For our fanciest meal in some time, we went to the famous Italian place called Castelli's in Addis Ababa. Tara loved her ravioli. I tolerated my saffron pasta, which turned out to be filled with parsley. I hate parsley. A lot.
Injera is made in villages over a massive clay pan with a fire underneath. We saw one when we were lucky enough to eat in a village at our guide's house, but we thought it would be rude to pull out the camera and start taking photos of his kitchen. However, this is an electric version that was at the orphanage we toured. They were happy to have us take a picture, and had enough experience with foreigners not to find or obsession with the injera machine completely ridiculous. Just pour the batter on like pancake batter, and 2 or 3 minutes later you have injera.
On our last night, we went to a touristy restaurant, complete with singing and dancing, with Nega, one of our new friends who runs an orphanage and youth program, and his wife. Here is Tara outside with the glowing replica of the table on which food is served.
Banana gum is very popular in Ethiopia. Most people chew a quarter piece at a time. I think a local thought I was being very lavish when I ate a whole piece.
Most notable about this mix of dishes is the dark injera, made with red teff. Just a slightly more irony taste. Also notable is the yucky cheese spread over the dish, which forced me to pick around it and not be able to eat the last few bites of injera at the end that still had cheese on them.
Not all the food in Ethiopia is stewed. Only 99%. You can also get little pieces of meat grilled and served over little charcoal embers. Fun, dangerous, and good. What more can you ask for from your dinner? Oh, right, it could also be served by someone who looks like a supermodel, which was apparently a prerequisite to work at this restaurant...
That's it. Food in Ethiopia really was amazing. We loved Ethiopian food in the US, but loved it even more in Ethiopia. What's more, most meals cost $1 or $2 for the same amount of food that would cost $20 in the US. We will go back to visit one day even if it is only to have a couple of meals.


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing all of your food pictures.

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  3. I just got to read this stumbled on it lo9king for recipes of Ethiopian yogurt. Great writings and funny too.

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