Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ethiopian food

I've am slow to the starting line when it comes to learning about and partaking in the enjoyment of good Ethiopian food.  Some of it by choice and a bit by circumstance.  We had six months in the US between the Philippines and moving to Ethiopia while Justin learned Amharic.  DC is home to the largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia so there are plenty of restaurants in the area that serve good Ethiopian food.  I'd never tried even a bite of Ethiopian food and I put my foot down and decided that I wanted my first Ethiopian meal to be IN Ethiopia (where it's better anyway right?or at least more authentic).  Plus, I was monstrously pregnant with our third baby girl and I wanted to enjoy all the wonderful food that I knew we wouldn't get for two and a half years while living in Addis Ababa.  We ate tons of Lost Dog Cafe pizza, Sweet Water Tavern burgers, Chipotle burritos and everything in between, except Ethiopian food.

Upon our arrival to Addis with the children and hiring a housekeeper but not a cook or a nanny, I dug into life here with a fervor.  But I didn't have my first plate of Ethiopian food until almost two months after our arrival.  Taking the kids with us to the cultural restaurants that don't open until 7PM just is not an option and we didn't have a babysitter.  Anyway, I loved the food but I was shocked at the flavors when I finally tasted it. It was nothing like I had pictured.  In my head, injera was like an Indian flat bread not a sour floppy pancake.  I really had no frame of reference for what Ethiopian food would taste like so it took me a bit to realize it's completely different than anything I had ever tasted...and I loved it!

I beg Justin to take me to get Ethiopian food on the weekends or in the evenings for date night.  I cook every meal at the house and none of that includes anything remotely Ethiopian.  Then a miracle happened.  Eneye gave me some of her lunch the other day and it was delicious.  She can cook!  She may not be able to make a grilled cheese sandwich or turn on the microwave in our kitchen but she can make damn fine Ethiopian food.  I guess I knew this all along but never pulled the trigger on asking her to cook for us.

The next day I sent Zalalem out to get all the ingredients she needed and she made us an Ethiopian meal on Friday afternoon.  It was amazing.  She now has the additional job of cooking Ethiopian food for us on Fridays.  Lucky me!
Injera covered with misir wat with beef and shiro
So here is what I know about Ethiopian food so far.  Or at least the Ethiopian food I've tasted.
Injera is used by tearing off pieces and grabbing the food.  It's like an edible utensil.  
Injera: Made out of a protein rich Teff (a grain indigenous to Ethiopia) flour. The injera batter is mixed and allowed to ferment for a few days before it's poured on large round griddle and allowed to bubble and cook like a pancake.  It's peeled off and rolled up.  Ethiopians make large batches of injera all at once.  Enough often to feed their family for a week.  It is the staple "bread" and used to scoop or grab other foods like a utensil.  Typically a large piece of injera is laid out on the plate or in a basket and then other foods are piled on top.  Rolled injera is served on the side for eating the meal.  It's quite spongy and sour and I was turned off the first time I tried it plain.  It really requires to be eaten with other things where the sour taste compliments well with the savory spices.

Shiro: This is a soft soupy like lentil dish that can be made spicy or just "spiced".  Shiro starts out as a ground  lentil powder and is added to boiling water with onions garlic and spices. It is served in a hot pot dish and scooped on the injera.  This is my favorite of all I've tasted.

Tibs: beef or lamb pieces that are grilled or sauteed.
Misir lentils
Misir Wat (lentil stew): The Misir is a spicy sauce made with whole lentils that you can add meat to. Wat is stew that starts with lots of onions.
Berbere:  This is the powdered red spice used in all Ethiopian food.  It's a combination of dried and finely ground peppers, chilies, korarima (Ethiopian cardamom), fenugreek,salt and other spices.
from left to right: berbere, powdered shiro, and misir
Eneye used a huge handful of large garlic cloves, half of a kilo of beef, oil, and four large onions.  Broths are made with water, not broth.  We purchased the injera at a local market.  The meal was spicy but not too spicy. It was more "spiced" than spicy.  And wonderful!  I am excited to learn to make some basic Ethiopian food.  We spent about $7 on the three bags of dried food that will last many meals.  The meal Eneye made was enough for Justin and I to eat on for at least 5 days.  This Friday she's making beef tibs. 


Anonymous said...

I do love Ethiopian food and I totally hear you on the not ever getting to have the food of the country you are in. We've hired a housekeeper but she can't start for a few more weeks/months and I'm pretty much just counting down the days until she does so we can have Indian food at least a few nights a week! Those restaurants not opening until 7pm is such a killer!! We don't mind taking Will out to eat but our strategy has always been to go right at 5, eat and leave before the restaurant or the other guests even know what hit them. But man 7pm? That's just asking for trouble! So sad!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sara,

love your blog and glad you started to write about Ethiopian food. I would highly recommend you Yeshi Buna. It is my favourite place to get Ethiopian food and the best thing is they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Perfect for dining with your whole family. They do have an extensive food menu both in English and Amharic which features food from different regions. Their decor is also inviting as well as their service. Google them for more information.

Natasha said...

I have never had Ethiopian food! And I have lived in DC for 6+ years. I consider myself pretty adventurous with foods so I am always ashamed to admit this. But we still have a couple weeks left in DC -- perhaps it's not too late!

Sara said...

I completely agree about the early bird special plan with kids and eating out. We try to go when there are very few other patrons so we don't feel the pressure of keeping the kids super quiet. It's a much more pleasant way of eating as a family.

Thank you agelgil for the recommendation. I think there are two locations not too far from us. I cannot wait to try Yeshi Buna. The coffee sounds wonderful and the extensive menu is amazing! I had only sampled such a small amount of Ethiopian food so far.

Natasha, I have no idea how Ethiopian food in DC tastes but I imagine they import the butter and Teff that makes the injera so unique. There is also a little Ethiopian market off Columbia Pike in South Arlington next to the Eckerd and across from the Bike shop that sells Ethiopian coffee!

local said...

Anyone that hasn't tried Ethiopian food should really consider finding a way to do so. It is really amazing.