I love Ethopian food, so when I had the chance to spend a day in Addis Ababa, a city that’s not exactly hopping with tourist activities, I figured I could focus on food. This led me back to my favorite peer to peer food experience company: Traveling Spoon. Traveling Spoon has been facilitating cooking and meal experiences for five years. And they have one host in Ethopia.
To visit Daniel’s house for dinner first one must take a taxi through the city of Addis Ababa to a suburb. The distance isn’t all that far, but the drive is long in city traffic. And more of an issue, there are no addresses in the city. Just landmarks. For instance, I stayed in a hotel that just gave it’s district name and the name of a business nearby. That’s what you tell taxi drivers. For Daniel’s home there is no such landmark, and so he offers the option of arranging transportation for an extra fee.
With only 1 day in Addis, as locals call it, I didn’t want to spend my time worrying about transit, so I opted for the pick up. Daniel showed up with the driver and offered some interesting commentary about the sights in the city as we drove. Daniel works in tourism and he is a great resource for information about Ethiopia.
Daniel and his wife Tigist live in what appeared to me to be a modest middle class home. Very comfortable and welcoming, but also revealing about problems with infrastructure in Addis. They have little running water and rely on regular water deliveries to meet their needs. As for electricity, it was working when I visited but it was out the previous few days.
Daniel’s wife does the cooking in the family, and her English is also quite good. I learned from Daniel that all school children study English starting in first grade, and when they enter 9th grade school is taught in English. For our meal Tigist taught me to cook shiro, a traditional dish of onions, tomatoes, chick pea powder and lots of seasonings. And we also made injera, the typical Ethiopian bread that is eaten with (and used as plate and utensil for) every meal.
Overall the meal was delicious, and Daniel, his wife, and their three boys were friendly and welcoming. It’s a treat to have the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of a country over a delicious meal shared with locals.
Ethiopian food is unique
A standard Ethiopian meal consists of one or more dishes served on a communal injera platter, eaten with your hands by scooping up the food with pieces of injera. Many Ethiopian dishes are based in lentils, a few are vegetable based, and others are meat. One common thread is bold flavors and a heavy hand with oil and butter. This makes for delicious sauces that soak into the injera platter, an edible plate at the end of the meal.
For our meal Tigist had prepared several dishes in advance, and my lesson focused on the shiro and injera. But she explained that some of what were were preparing is also the base for other dishes. I learned that the main ingredient in shiro is a chick pea flower. But it’s not just chick peas. Each family makes their own shiro flower blend combining chickpeas with seasoning like cardamom, basil and black pepper. This mix is taken to a local grinder where it’s made into flour.
Injera is an interesting and unique staple of Ethiopian meals. It is made in a special oven. The preparation is much like a crep. Thin batter, which is simply teff flour, water, and some yeast, is poured on a hot griddle in a circle until the whole round area is filled. The batter cooks, covered, until the right amount and type of steam is coming out the back (this is still a mystery to me). Then the chef opens the lid peels the bread off the hot pan. The fresh injera is placed on a woven flat basket to cool. My injera was far from perfect, but I could envision mastering the technique with enough practice. I’m just not sure where I’d put the oven in my kitchen.
Ethopians are serious about coffee
After dinner we enjoyed some Ethiopian coffee. This is not just a bean grown for export. Ethiopians take their coffee very seriously. The traditional coffee ceremony can take a few hours and involves a lot of work, but is also a social event. The preparation includes toasting the beans over a coal oven (which my host did in her living room). The toasting is done in a pan, and reminded me of the technique used when popping corn over the stove. Constant shaking of the pan is required to prevent the beans from burning. Once the beans are perfectly toasted, they are ground in a large cylinder using a pestle. It’s brute force and I imagine it takes quite a while to grind whole beans down to the perfect consistency. I feel like I’m cheating using my electric grinder.
Once the grounds are ready they are placed in a beautiful pot with some hot water. That is then set over the hot coals to steep for a while and to let the grounds settle. Finally it’s time to drink the strong coffee, out of small cups. With coffee Ethiopians often eat a snack called kolo. This is mainly toasted barley, with a few chickpeas and peanuts. There is no seasoning but I found kolo quite addictive, and the perfect accompaniment to a cup of Ethiopian coffee.
If you’re interested in enjoying a Traveling Spoon meal or cooking class, you can sign up with my referral link to get $20 off your first booking. (And I get a $20 discount on my next booking too!)