Posts tagged food
Posts tagged food
Most days after aerobics class I go to Samson and Meskerem’s little cafe for breakfast. The couple has been operating the restaurant for a little under a year now, and they serve my favorite breakfast food in Ethiopia, fuul.
I walk up to the front of the restaurant and start to wash my hands; as I do, Samson spots me and says good morning (Akkam bulte? Fayya dha?). Is there fuul? I ask. Nowadays, the answer is always yes; at 7:15 I’m one of the first customers of the morning. By 9:00, when most people have gone to school or work, they’re almost always sold out.
Samson conveys my order to Meskerem, whom I rarely see. While he works the front, she’s in the narrow kitchen at the side of the shop, scrambling eggs, mixing beans and sauce, or chopping up and frying injera to make fir fir. It’s basically a lean-to attached to the corrugated metal building; the total space is about the size of my house, which is 3x4 meters. “One special fuul for Joanna.” The identity of the customer is important here; if it’s Kim, she prefers her fuul without raw peppers and onions on top.
I take a seat at one of the stools in the front of the shop; chairs, two tables, and some tarp make an improvised veranda on the dirt. It can get crowded inside, and I’m usually still sweating from the aerobics, so outside is better.
The fuul arrives in a few minutes, steaming hot. Meskerem’s fuul is some of the spiciest (and most delicious) I’ve had, so I almost always get “special fuul,” which means that the beans in a tomato and berbere sauce are topped with a few scrambled eggs. The eggs help to neutralize some of the spice.
I devour my fuul, using pieces of bread to scoop up bites. Fuul is always served in a shallow metal dish that has been placed directly on the fire, typically atop a saucer-like metal plate. You can tilt the metal plate to keep from spilling your fuul as you scoop, but the bowl will most certainly burn your fingers. The bowl goes directly on the fire because the two main components of the dish, beans and sauce, are usually prepared separately in advance; when someone orders fuul, they’re fried up together so it comes out fresh and hot. Often, the bottom of the fuul will get a little bit crusty because of the heat. This is almost always the most delicious part.
When there’s nothing left to scoop, I pay the bill - 10 birr, or 11 if I’ve had tea - and head home. What a delicious way to start the day.
In the past, I’ve poo-pooed my Ethiopian friends’ and neighbors’ insinuations that foreigners can’t handle their spicy food. A recent illness made me realize that maybe I do have to take it easy on the spice…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A few weeks ago, I woke up with a weird pain in my side. It felt like a side stitch, and I didn’t think much of it. It persisted throughout the day, though, and radiated to my shoulder, and so that evening a friend and I did what any person with internet access does when they’re feeling ill: googled it. The Mayo Clinic’s symptom checker came up with a scary list of possibilities, including infections of various expendable organs. I called the Peace Corps medical duty phone and explained my symptoms. The doctor told me to take some ibuprofen for the pain, get some sleep, and go to the hospital in the morning.
I waited in the hot, urine-scented hospital waiting room for an hour before a staff member noticed me and, against my protests, ushered me to the front of the line. This kind of thing is a common occurrence in Ethiopia, where guest culture means that a foreigner waiting, standing, or unfed is unacceptable. I always feel guilty, but my objections have rarely been successful. I was in a lot of pain and tired of being told to tabadhuu, so I was even less vehement than usual. I paid my five birr registration fee and I moved on to the next (outdoor) waiting area. Another hour went by before my name was called.
The doctor, shadowed by two medical students, asked me what was wrong, and I told him it hurt my side and shoulder when I breathed in, and it was worse when I coughed or laughed. “Why are you laughing? You should be more serious,” he tried to joke. I smiled feebly. He showed me to the examining table and poked around at my abdomen. “Do you have a fever?” he asked. I expressed my uncertainty, since I didn’t have a thermometer. We went back to his desk, where he wrote in my chart:
I need to get my hands on that chart before I leave Ethiopia. For the record, I’m the same weight I was when I got here, give or take a kilo. Not sure where bullet point #2 came from.
He told me he suspected a gallbladder infection, and sent me for blood work and an x-ray. These services cost 15 and 20 birr, respectively. I paid at the cashier, had my blood drawn at the lab, then moved on to radiology area. A grumpy old man took my name and receipt, then showed me into the room that housed the machine. It looked like something out of Lost. At his instruction, I removed my top and my bra and stood against the panel while he aimed what looked like an overhead projector with crosshairs at my chest. It was cold and embarrassing. I got dressed and went out to wait for the slide to develop. He told me it would be 20 minutes, but called me in after only a few. As it turns out, he aimed wrong, and needed to take another x-ray, this time of my abdomen. We repeated the whole chilly, embarrassing procedure, this time without pants, too. Luckily I was able to keep on my undies, or I probably would have cried.
When my x-rays were developed, I collected my lab results on the way back to the doctor. He glanced at the chemical and visual depictions of my body’s state and pronounced them normal, but said I should come back after lunch to get an ultrasound. I was surprised — both that it was lunch time already (a whole morning gone!) and that they even have an ultrasound machine — but agreed to return soon.
I met up with two of my sitemates for lunch and buna, and they accompanied me to the hospital. We waited. The doctor appeared at one point to tell me he was waiting for the surgeon to be available so we could all chat. I thanked him; when he walked away, my friends and I looked at each other, aghast. “Surgeon?” There was no way anyone at this hospital was going to see my insides without an x-ray machine.
After another hour of waiting, the doctor reappeared. The ultrasound machine was broken (no way!), but the surgeon had one at the private clinic where he works nights. I should go there in the evening.
I went home and watched some mindless television for a bit before it was time to visit the clinic. There, Dr. Makkonen gelled up my belly and pushed and prodded at my internal organs — gallbladder, stomach, spleen, appendix, liver, and kidneys. He pointed them out as they came up on the monitor, and pronounced them all normal. He said i probably had accute gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining. He prescribed antacid and told me to avoid buna, shay, and spicy foods until I felt better, which could take over a week. And did.
I did some more research on the ever-enlightening internet and found that there were more foods I should avoid: refined grains, peanuts, palm oil, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, fatty meats, garlic, onions, chocolate and milk. So I spent the next week trying to behave myself, eating only whole grains, legumes, and bananas. I wasn’t perfect, but it did the trick, and my stomach was back to normal in time for me to splurge a little with Christmas treats. Lesson learned: no more 5-buna days for this PCV.
After a discouraging first try, I decided to give misur wot (spicy lentil stew) another shot. I think 10 months of watching women make wot just about every day has taught me a few things about the general ingredient order, amounts, and timing that are common to most stews. Serve over injera (you can buy it at Ethiopian grocery stores on, for example, U Street in DC), rice, or pasta, or just use some bread to sop it up. This is a large-ish 1-person portion size (I mean, the portion size is large-ish; I’m still little), so increase accordingly.
Lentils are, by far, my favorite legume. They cook quickly, they taste delicious, and there are two types available in Ethiopia. I prefer to make my lentil soup with green lentils, but red lentils are a fun, sweet change now and then.
It’s been hot in Mettu lately, but for some reason that doesn’t decrease my soup consumption. Mabye it’s convenience (soup can be re-boiled the next day or iftan [the day after that] without ruining the consistency), or maybe sweating my way through a meal makes the weather seem mild in comparison. This recipe makes about two meals for one person.
chickpeas and kale on Flickr.
Ni Mi’aawaa Spicy, Lemony Chickpeas and Kale
1 c Dried chickpeas, or a can of ‘em
1 jalepeno or something
Dash of olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1tsp Berbere or Cayenne pepper
1tbsp Ground cumin
2 c Chopped kale or miscellaneous leafy greens
1/4 c water
If you’re working with dry chickpeas, soak them overnight, then boil until tender. Or open the can. Either way, drain them.
Put a frying pan over medium-high heat and sautee onions, pepper, and chickpeas in the olive oil until the liquid has evaporated. Squeeze one lemon over the lot and give it a toss, then resist the urge to stir for a minute or two until the chickpeas get a little bit brown. Now’s a good time to add the salt, pepper, and other spices.
Add the kale and sautee for a moment, then add the juice of the remaining lemon along with a bit of water. Cover and steam until the kale is wilted, then taste and adjust the seasoning as you please. Serve over hot, steamy rice.
The Verdict: Quite good, and easy to make with locally-available ingredients (palm oil can be substituted for olive in a pinch). Ni mi’aawaa!
tagabino committee on Flickr.
I asked one of my neighbors how to make tagabino, one of my favorite dishes. We ended up with a tagabino committee. It was delicious.
Ni Mi’aawaa: Pancakes with Guava Syrup and Fudge-y Frosting
Pancakes are delicious. Pancake syrup is kinda hard to come by in these parts. So what are some PCVs in search of comfort food to do on a Saturday morning? Scott showed us how simple it is to chop and boil some strawberry guavas (cheap and plentiful) with a little bit of citrus and sugar, then press them through a strainer. Supplement the resulting syrup with some delicious leftover chocolate frosting.
This is the best pancake recipe of all time. No milk? Substitute water and a little vinegar.
Verdict: Ni mi’aawaa, times a thousand, even though we were low on oil and milk — I was too busy devouring them to take a picture until we were almost done.
Ni Mi’aawaa: Stovetop Pizza
I am heavily indebted to several people for this ridiculously tasty lunch: Scott, for his crust recipe and the original inspiration; my parents, for sending my favorite nonstick pan, monterey jack cheese, spices, and pepperoni; and Kim, for helping me prep and eat it.
1 cup flour
¼ tsp yeast
¼ tsp salt
½ cup water
Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, then add the water and mix with a fork until a thoroughly combined into a wet dough. Cover and allow to rise for 6-12 hours (4 will do if you’re hungry).
Press the dough into the bottom of a non-stick frying pan and top with sauce (below) and other fixings your incredible parents sent you in a fabulous care package. Put the lid on the pan and cook over low heat until everything’s all bubbly and melty; poke the crust with a fork to see if it’s firmed up. If it needs a little more time, cook it for a few minutes sans lid.
4 oz. can of tomato paste (Ethiopian style, which is liquidy and sweet compared to the American stuff)
2 small or one large onion
A few fresh tomatoes
Oregano/Mixed Italian Herbs
Salt and Pepper
Heat the oil in a pan of your choice, then saute the onions until they’re soft. Add the tomatoes. Once they soften, add the tomato paste and herbs; season well.
Verdict: There are no words, so I’m reduced to sounding like a teenager. OMFG.
Ni Mi’aawaa: Quick Curry
I make a lot of dishes that involve onions, spicy green peppers, potatoes, and carrots, since those are all common, stay good for a while without refrigeration, and very readily available. Often, I just sautee all the ingredients with some salt and pepper, get the potatoes a little crispy, then add water until everything is cooked through. A little curry is a great way to spice things up, though. Since curry powder is only available in Addis, I use a little of the good stuff, and then supplement it with other spices that are easier to come by.
2 tbsp Oil
2 tbsp(?) Curry Powder (or make it up! I used coriander, cumin, ginger, berbere, salt & pepper)
Spicy green pepper
Whatever veggies you have on hand
Red lentils, or any other legumes (lentils don’t have to be pre-cooked; I’d cook up heartier beans, like chickpeas, separately).
Heat the oil in a frying pan, then add the spices, onions, and pepper until everything’s sizzling. Add your veggies, toss them with everything else, and cook for a bit while you sort your lentils — I let it go until I’m scared it’s going to burn. Then add water to cover, along with a handful or two of your favorite legume (I sorted 2 big handfuls of red lentils, then dropped about half on the ground. Gobez, Joanna). Cover and let simmer until the whole thing is cooked through and check for seasoning (salt is your friend), then remove the lid but keep on the heat until most of the water evaporates. Serve alone or with rice, if you happen to have some on hand.
Verdict: Yum! I had to restrain myself to keep from eating it all in one sitting. Tomorrow, when I have leftovers for dinner, I’ll thank myself. Today, I’m still staring at the pan longingly. Maybe just one more bite…
Last weekend, I gathered with other Peace Corps Volunteers at the home of Scott, in a small town a few hours along a winding, bumpy road outside of my site. The weekend had two purposes: first, the old hands took the opportunity to show us newbies how to garden like champs (Scott’s garden is huge and gorgeous), share project ideas, successes, and failures, and how to construct mud stoves for fuel efficiency. I’ll save the details for my own future adventures with these serious matters.
Second, and more fun, we had a kickass BBQ. Scott had been raising a sheep he named Pierre for the past three months, and this weekend, Pierre met his end. I was a little squeamish about the slaughtering — I’m trying to get better, but poor fella — so I focused on getting an awesome charcoal fire going in the mud stove while Scott and a few others did the dirty work of clobbering Pierre on the back of the head, stringing him up, slicing his throat, and skinning him. Though I missed the main action, I passed by just in time to hold Pierre open while Scott cracked his ribs so that he would lay flat on the grill (the “he” being Pierre, not Scott) - fabulous picture of me looking disgusted to come. Stay tuned.
I have to say, Pierre was delicious. But so was the pesto pasta (care package cheese, basil from Scott’s garden), the offal chili (made with beans and Pierre’s spare parts), the deviled eggs, the baked beans (which I knocked over, but were rescued by another PCV), the cole slaw, the fresh salad (lettuce from the garden), and the lemon ginger irake (horrible local liquor that Scott filtered and mixed with some fabulous homemade syrups). I’m sure I’m forgetting some of it - there was a ton of food - but suffice it to say everything was incredibly tasty.
It was great to see a bunch of people from my group and meet even more for the first time. On Sunday, we went on a hike to a local waterfall, trekking through a newly-cleared path in the muddy rainforest just outside of town. There was a lot of slipping, a few falls, and the uttering of many oaths, but when we reached our destination we all knew it was worth it. We stood next to the pounding falls with their many layers and the spray beaded in everyone’s hair, on beards, on arms. We all looked like we were covered with glitter. It was cool and refreshing after the tough hike, and a little humbling. The water hit the rocks with unimaginable force; the thought of slipping in was terrifying, so we kept our distance as we gaped. When we turned around, then finally emerged from the shady forest into the bright sunshine, it was like we had dreamt the whole thing. We were damp and covered with mud, but there seemed no earthly reason why: we were walking on a dry, dusty road in the hot sun. We continued on, downhill to stand on a bridge over the raging river that cut through the valley, then uphill to get a view of the waterfall we’d just stood next to, then down and up again to where we’d started, and finally, exhausted, caught a bus back to town. We made it back just as the afternoon rain storm erupted from the sky. Quite the Sunday.