When I visited Abyssinia recently I was introduced to the land’s age old delicacy. With friends we sauntered through the veins of Addis, amongst the skyscrapers glitter and into a random eatery.
The restaurant was full. An old couple was dining side by side studiously bent over their meals. A group of young women in their twenties collapsing with helpless giggles.
Pancake-like Injera bread was set before us; stretching around in a huge circular tin plate. Coffee-brown coloured mounds of what seemed to me like curries were brought and I was torn between wanting to savour it and inhale it. We all tore through Injera bread and chowed down with aromatic beef stew. The aroma and communal style of dining was interesting Our hearts melted with pleasure. I wanted to learn more about Ethiopian delicacies.
Upon my return, I was on the hunt for delight of Ethiopian cuisine in Nairobi. The cuisine follows the culture enriched by millennia of long distance trade and exchange with the Middle East, Asia and the Far East. The food is prepared with creativity and the end result is a delicacy that is unique and extraordinarily flavourful.
ETHIOPIAN MEAT DISHES
Doro Wat is a flavoured chicken stew is one Ethiopian signature dish. Ethiopian .Traditionally, an Ethiopian girl would demonstrate her culinary prowess by preparing a Doro Wat for her fiancé’s family. A proof that she was "wife material". The last shreds of traditional practises hang is in remote villages in Ethiopia. Doro wat involves slow cooking red onions, Berbere and chicken parts for at least two hours until the right blend of flavours has been achieved.
Key Wat (Spicy Beef Stew) is another meat dish with meat chunks and served with a boiled egg on top, or in the middle of a mixed platter.
Minchet is meat dish often placed at the centre of a Maheberawi (mixed meat plate). This ground meat stew is made from simmered red onions mixed with Berbere and ground beef. It’s often served with a boiled egg.
Tibs are meat cubes (beef or lamb) stir-fried with onions, peppers and other vegetables in niter kibbeh.
Often, twigs of rosemary are added to the mixture. Tibs can also be served spicy with some Berbere’s strong flavour.
Gomen Be Sega
Gomen Be Sega is meat with vegetables served with beef or lamb. The meat is simmered in plentiful amounts of niter kibbeh with greens and other vegetables like onions, carrots and cabbage and onions.
Kitfo and Gored Gored
Kifto is raw lean ground beef blended with Berbere, is a main dish of Ethiopia. While Gored Gored is raw cubes of the highest quality beef warmed slightly and spiced Ethiopian butter (niter kibbeh) and a rich flavouring of Berbere spice.
ETHIOPIAN VEGETARIAN DISHES
The main Vegetrian dishes include Misir, Wat, Shiro, KikAlicha and Gomen. Misir Wat is a highly spiced red lentil stew made with sautéed onions, berbere, cardamom and other spices, Misir wat is the signature vegetarian food in Ethiopia.
Shiro is a vegetarian stew made from chickpea flour blended with Berbere and a host of other spices. It is served either thick (tagamino) or thin (feses). Although shiro often served at the centre (yetsom beyaynetu) a vegetarian combination platter, it can also be served alone. KikAlicha is a non-spicy split pea stew made with a lot of turmeric; kikalicha lessens all the other flavours and spice on an Ethiopian plate. Gomen is a simple, flavourful plate made from collard greens, onions, niter kibbeh and other spices sautéed and simmered together.
Ethiopian Snacks and Breakfast
Kolo and Fir-Fir are the main Ethiopian snacks. Kolo is roasted barley often served mixed with peanuts or nuts. Fir-Fir is made of sliced pieces of Injera turned in Berbere sauce. Fir-fir is a traditional and hearty way to start your day.
THE BASIC FOODS
The signature red spice turns Ethiopian stews into a marvel . Berbere is made of ground semi-spicy chili peppers blended with over fifteen herbs, spices and ingredients including cumin, garlic, ginger coriander and fenugreek.
Ethiopian food without injera might be considered profanation by Ethiopians. This spongy pancake-like flatbread made from fermented tef (a gluten-free grain indigenous to Ethiopia) is a signature to every Ethiopian meal. Injera has a slightly sour flavour that comes from the fermentation of tef. Not all injeras are made the same though, some are deliberately dark others brownish. Injera is meant to be torn by bare hands and devoured as one scoops the aromatic stews. It goes well with all meaty and vegetarian dishes.
Mitmita is a signature spice, a blend of chilli peppers cardamom seed, cloves and salt. While Mitmita is often turned in meat dishes to add flavour and warmth on one's plate.
Niter kibbeh is a pure culinary phenomenon. The ingredient is made by cooked butter blended with onions, garlic and ginger and spices like cumin, turmeric fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. After simmering, the solids are then extracted leaving a flavoured butter that adds a rich tang and distinction to the dishes.
Ethiopia is claimed to be where coffee was first discovered. The country’s coffee is acclaimed for its potent, pungent, winey quality and distinct wildness in its acidity. Before the coffee is brought in miniature traditional wooden kettle and haunting frankincense is placed on the table .It’s outlandish aroma of charcoal flames and burning cocktail dissipates into the crisp air.
If you are looking for marvellous espresso pay a visit to modest Addis Allem Cafe in Roysambu or lush Yejoka Gardens in the upscale Hurligham. Addis Allem Cafe is also a good place to purchase whole bean Ethiopian coffee to take home souvenirs.
Yejoka gardens has outstanding outdoor space while Addis Allem Cafe features a decor of a bygone era and serves up an incredibly potent brew by expert Baristas.
Ethiopian cuisine demonstrates that we are a result of cultural and culinary evolution, a blend of influences, experimentations and travellers who carried flavours through long gone ages.