Ethiopia: Teff Times
Wedged between the Arab world and Sub-Saharan Africa is Ethiopia. We're still on Earth, but we're miles from the familiar. We'll be in Ethiopia for three weeks, longer than any other country on the tour. By the end you'll swear you'll never eat injera again. But enjoy it while you can, as three weeks gives you barely enough time to sample the dizzying array of foods to offer. After three weeks, you may find yourself a little sick of injera. Fear not, in the wake of their failed conquest, the Italians left something of their culinary legacy. Try spaghetti on injera for the ultimate in fusion cuisine.
Injera – No that isn't the hand towel they're eating. It's injera. The fermented crepe like flat-bread that is the staple food of Ethiopia. As with sourdough starter, ground teff is mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days. The resulting batter is then poured onto a traditional clay plate which is placed over a fire. In some households an electric stove does the trick. When food is ordered from an Ethiopian restaurant it almost invariably arrives served on a large piece of injera. Again the injera is eaten with the right hand only; the basic process being to tear off pieces of the bread, then use these pieces to grab bits of food. When all the bits are eaten, you eat the injera which has soaked up the delicious juices. It is considered polite to feed your friends the best bits; the bigger the bit, the better the friend.
Teff – is the staple grain of Ethiopia. It is the primary ingredient in Injera, and nearly one third of the land mass is covered by this remarkable grain. As you cycle along, you will pass vast swaths of land covered in what appears to be a golden hay; this is teff. Teff is the smallest grain in the world, fifty grains of teff can fit inside a single grain of wheat. It is a nutritional powerhouse, contains all eight of the essential amino acids, is high in calcium and iron, and is suitable for celiacs. Teff has remarkable abilities with regards to drought resistance; producing substantial harvests when other crops fail altogether. It prefers to grow at altitude and flowers best with twelve hours of sunlight; making the horn of Africa an ideal climate for this incredible crop.
Ladies! If you're looking to land yourself a quality Ethiopian man, you better start by mastering this ubiquitous spice mix that gives Ethiopian food its distinctive flavour. According to Ethiopian culture; the woman with the best berbere has the best chances of getting a good husband. Aside from the obvious chilis, berbere contains several other spices including ginger, cloves, coriander and allspice.
Street Food / Snacks
The basics of Ethiopian cuisine can be broken into three basic categories:
Wot– a basic stew that starts with cooking onions until soft then adding berbere powder and desired meat or vegetables; which can include anything from chicken, beef, lentils and chickpeas, to swiss chard, carrots and potatoes.
Tibs– another broad category of Ethiopian food is tibs. Basically any meat or vegetable that is grilled or sauteed as opposed to stewed.
Kitfo-I bet you didn't think you'd get steak tartar in Africa! Directly translated kitfo means minced or chopped finely. Kitfo can be catergorized depending on the level of doneness. In order of less cooked to more cooked (less recommended to more recommended) they are kitfro tre (completely raw) and kitfo leb leb (rare) The fasting platter (an oxymoron no?) is my favourite offering. While it will contain a mixture of tibs and wots, it gets special attention because I like it. Ethiopians observe several days of fasting throughout the year, including every Wednesday and Friday. During these days no meat is to be eaten, but any vegetarian offerings are fair game. Loaded with plenty of lentils, chickpea purees and vegetables, the fasting platter has all the good stuff you need to keep you going through the day. The layered drinks of Bahir Dar: Don't think too hard about how they make these delicious layered drinks which include your choice of mango, papaya, pineapple, and avocado. The avocado is a must, its unlike anything you've ever tasted.
While Ethiopia may be the supposed birthplace of humanity; it is more important to note that we have Ethiopia to thank for coffee. The history of coffee in Ethiopia dates back to the 9th century, and was largely confined to Ethiopia until the Arab world began to expand its trade horizons. To not drink coffee in Ethiopia is a culinary crime. While much of what we drink here will be coming from modern Italian coffee machines, it is an incredible experience to be part of, or observe a traditional coffee ceremony.
After the last stretch through Sudan, many of us are ready for a cold one. Thankfully St. George is waiting for us. While lack of refrigeration facilities generally means that your beer will be ambient, it's still a beer. Tej is an alcoholic drink made from the fermentation of honey in water. It is also known as honey wine and is similar to mead; variations of which can be seen all over the world, and were likely developed independently in ancient times. Like orange juice and champagne, Tej makes a very acceptable breakfast drink on rest days. While some would say that an apology to France and the other great nations of the wine producing world is in order; others will happily sit back and work through a bottle of Gouder with not a word of complaint. It is made from a blend of grapes and has a strong dry taste. The cost is certainly a drawing point, the lack of any other options is another.
The classic saying that "French wine is good, but Ethiopian is Gouder", bears little truth.
What you can expect from the TDA kitchen
a bit of fish in Addis Abeba
lots of smiles