Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dig In!

Let me say one thing about Ethiopia: these people know how to eat and they expect you to join them! Our culinary adventures started on Monday evening and didn’t let up until the plane took off the following Sunday. We were offered and ate everything from traditional Ethiopian and homemade Indian food to Italian and Lebanese.

My biggest regret of the week was that Hubby and I didn’t bring a camera to dinner that first Monday night where we were invited to join a phalanx of Hubby’s colleagues at a local Ethiopian restaurant called Agilgil. (The photos today were all borrowed from the Internet. Darnit!) Housed in the former home of Villa Verde, Agilgil was about twenty minutes away from the Organisation's campus where we were staying at the time.

The first thing that strikes you as you enter the restaurant is the lovely traditional music being played by a group on a small makeshift stage. After you listen to these talented men for a few minutes you notice that there is a flute (or washint) being played but no flautist in front of you. Along the left side of the restaurant is a beautiful rock wall interspersed with bits of greenery – and one flautist perched on a chair. Indeed he seemed more like part of the scenery than the musical ensemble at first glance. The musicians all played traditional instruments: the kebero (drums), kirar (really cool guitar/lute shaped instruments), and the masinko, which was a cross between a violin, and again, the lute.

These talented men were eventually joined by singers and then by four fabulous dancers. The two men and two women really seemed to be enjoying themselves as they danced and told local stories through their movements. Our hosts made a point to ensure that we and other ferenji had good seats before the dancing started so we could fully enjoy the spectacle.

On a more humorous note, the power went off at one point in the evening. No one so much as batted an eyelash as we all waited for the power to return or candles to be put out. In fact, it turned into a thoroughly modern moment in this most ancient country. Instead of people pulling out lighters to illuminate the darkness many of our fellow diners whipped out their cell phones to light the way with their LCD's. As can be predicted, I was the one of the few people who found the situation amusing.

But the food was about to be served… First off we all washed our hands using the water soap brought and poured by the waitresses. Since traditional Ethiopian food is eating from a communal plate with your hands, clean hands are both a simple courtesy and a necessity.

The huge platter that was set before us on the mesob (traditional basket table) was covered with injera. One by one a series of waitresses spooned Ethiopian delicacies onto our edible plate. Rolls of injera, which we would use to scoop up individual bites, were placed before each person. The group of men next to us were all part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which meant that they were eating “fasting food.” Lest you think that meant that they didn’t have much to eat – rest assured they ate as much if not more than we did - they just couldn’t eat meat (except for some very yummy looking fish.)

Before we knew it, Hubby and I were each stuffed to the gills. That; however, did not stop the gentleman who was sharing our mesob from ordering more and more and more food for us to enjoy. My favorite dish that evening was dora watt, which Hubby actually makes at home from time to time. But even he had to admit that the version we enjoyed that evening was a showstopper! (I have little doubt that he’ll be trying to perfect his own at home dora watt over the next few months.)

Wednesday night we went out for Ethiopian again and this time enjoyed “fasting food” which we both agreed was incredibly yummy and much lighter on the stomach that what we had eaten on Monday. The grilled fish, in particular, was incredibly moist and flavorful. The highlight of the evening; however, was the company: The Linguist, his wife, Zee, and her brother and his wife.

Rest assured, Hubby and I did not eat out every night. Midweek we moved from the Campus to the home of one of Hubby’s colleagues, Ben and his lovely wife Shar. Shar, it must be said, is an amazing cook! She kept us tied to her dining room table with fabulous feasts fit for any king!

I can’t wait to have Ben, Shar and their children as our guests here in Nairobi. The food won’t be nearly as good as Shar’s but hey, I have live elephants that the kids can pet!

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