Wednesday, April 11, 2012
the food & beverage
We knew this would not be a trip of culinary highlights. I already mentioned the injera, a local kind of leavened bread with the texture – and the taste – of a wet towel that is omnipresent, every Ethiopian dish is served on it. You tear off a piece of injera, and use it to scoop the topping into your mouth. To be fair, some of those dishes are quite OK, although meat is invariably tough, and sometimes of uncertain origin.
An alternative in many places is the spaghetti, or macaroni, with meat sauce or vegetable sauce, meat and vegetables once again of indeterminable origin. Or tomato sauce, of course, a sure bet. Or not: the absolute lowlight was macaroni with tomato-ketchup sauce, and that was even before we got well and truly fed up with every type of pasta offered.
If the menu specifies beef, or fish, or cotelet, it mostly refers to the thinnest of slices, often breaded and fried. Everybody had warned me for the chicken in this country, yet I had to try a full roasted chicken from the menu in Lalibela. My full roasted chicken had no wings, no breast, but four legs! Two by two, pairs of quite different colour, texture and taste; what they had in common is that they were tough, and that they were most definitely not chicken. Roasted lamb (or lamp, or lump) is not much better, although there have been exceptions – most notably Rico’s roasted lamb in Addis Ababa, seriously, probably the best roasted lamb I have had anywhere. And especially in the east of the country, and in Somaliland, they know how to prepare excellent roasted goat.
We have a bit of experience when it comes to local wines, of course. The dry Goudar Red, export quality, just about beats the Dodoma Red I remember from Tanzania 25 years ago, and definitely beats the Cambodian Red we tried last year. But how on earth it received its Gold medals – a 1979 of Soviet origin, it seems, and a 1980 gold medal of even more doubtful origin - I have no idea. Curiously, almost all bottles have a distinct corky taste. Another red, the sweet Aksum Red, we haven’t tried, and we should also not have tried the semi-dry white Cristal Awash – a vintage vinegar, quite undrinkable (despite, again, its range of Gold Medals, from east-bloc wine fairs in the 1980s).
Surprisingly, we have found quite acceptable local gin, in the form of Desta, and Gordon’s is also widely available. Never mind that the brand Desta produces everything alcoholic, from gin to ouzo to the medicinal alcohol to clean wounds (the latter comes in a purple variation). The biggest problem, however, is the local tonic, which is mostly absolutely disgusting, to the effect that after a couple of weeks we decided to suspend our gin & tonic consumption. Maybe I should repeat this: we have decided to suspend our gin & tonic consumption.
A word about breakfast: as so often, focus is on eggs, but when you order boiled eggs they warn you it may take 15-20 minutes. That will be one hell of a hard-boiled egg! Thus we order omelet, or scrambled eggs, and they are from OK to excellent, really - the excellent version however invariably coming with hot chilies (which you can still remove) or full of chili pepper (which you cannot…). Toast is served with butter, or, if they haven’t got any, with peanut-butter, what’s the difference! No waiter has yet managed to deliver eggs and coffee at the same time.
This is a coffee country, of course. Coffee is often good (unless it contains cockroaches, or unless it has been prepared in the far east of the country), and is served strong, black or in macchiato form. Occasionally, sugar is added, whether you like it or not (the concept of not having sugar in your coffee hasn’t penetrated to Ethiopia yet). Few waiters have managed to serve a cup of coffee without spilling on the saucer, though, and they also do not seem to care much; but then, they don’t care if you find a cockroach in your coffee either!
and then there is the local beer, of course, St George, often served in beer gardens - a man-only affair, the only women are the waitresses