April 21, 2009

Injera or bust! / La table éthiopienne


Ethiopian tables are most often full to the brim with food and drink, but it would be a stretch to suggest that there exists great variety in their choices in dish. The basic elements of an Ethiopian meal is simply injera (Those working to fight hunger in the country often face the sad irony that a family can have a room full of food, but without injera to eat it with, they “can’t” eat anything at all). Injera is simply a large crêpe batter made of local teff flour which is let to sit and ferment for three to four days before cooking it. Injera replaces both bread and utensil in the Ethiopian home. It is simply laid across a plate, covered with the meals “complimentary elements” or wats (meaning a sauce or vegetable dish), and us used to scoop the elements up and accompany them in flavor.

IMG_5671[3]The most common wat is the shiro, a thick paste made of chickpea flour and paprika and water (often cooked down with onions garlic and salt). It is rare to eat an injera without some variation of shiro.

Gomen is a collard green (or in some regions cabbage) dish simply cooked in oil.                                   

Messer is a spicy lentil dish usually also containing the primary elements of shiro and thus from time to time replaces it’s cousin at the table.          

Like many countries where historically meat is a luxurious option for families (deferred to religious holidays preceding or following the long Orthodox fasting), so vegetarians need not fear as most traditional plates are entirely safe to taste. Wats of potatoes with cumin, or pasta, beets, and even fresh salads are easy to find. Most Ethiopians still observe the weekly fasting days as well (Wednesdays and Fridays).

But if you are craving a bit meat, worry not as, particularly in these more abundant days, Tibs (raw sheep meet resembling a steak tartar), doro (chicken) wats, goat with egg, and even beef should be readily available in most towns. In the homes these delicacies are still seen as primarily celebration foods, but restaurants are always ready to serve a big plate of juicy bones.

Nearly all Ethiopian dishes are heavily powdered with berbere, the famous Ethiopian spice which we will just call paprika (since whether Ethiopians agree or not, is what it is).

IMG_6068[3] The markets, too, leave a bit to be desired in terms of a wide palette to explore. Most vendors will only provide the foods people are willing to eat (which means in Ethiopian psychology, only the food that is called shiro). Sides of fruit are fairly very difficult to find once you’ve had your fill of bananas, oranges (always still green) and papaya. But the quality of the fruit is a difficult pleasure to describe justly.
It has been clearly stated already in a previous post the importance coffee, Ethiopia’s primary export, plays in the homes and pride of its citizens. It is undoubtedly the greatest coffee I have had the privilege to taste. And in its variations the long ago attempts of Italian conquest in this land still bare their stubbed dull faces out to demand a macchiato or cappuccino. Though as in Sudan, tea is drunk in incredible quantities. Tea is flavored with cinnamon, cloves or other spices, and as without meaning to generalize any experience as something particularly “African”, the glasses still come a third full of sugar before the liquid even enters their brim.

Fresh juices are the favorite refreshment (particularly during the tiles Coca Cola stops delivering to the country) of teens who have the choices of mango, guava, orange, avocado (more of a mousse than a drink, served with a spoon), or the grand cocktail where all are whipped into one gigantic hair-gel looking pile and sucked down in less than a single breath…

Tej, an ancient Ethiopian version of mead (honey wine), is one of the popular local alcohols to choose from. You could also, be you a daring soul, try the many varieties of thalla, which is a liquor distilled from teff and often spiced with grass and other assortments of greenery. There are plenty of fine selections of Ethiopian beers to try. The Ethiopian tasted “mother approved,” Saint George is always the most available and popular, though a good stout comes from the Harar brewery as do many assortments of make come from Dashen, Bati, Bedell and Castel breweries. But be warned, injera may leave you feeling full, but one tej will hit you harder than you’d have expected.

IMG_6601[3] Les tables éthiopiennes sont souvent bien garnies, mais l'alimentation pas toujours variée.

L'élément fondamental d'un repas éthiopien est l'injera, une grande crêpe faite de farine de teff fermentée. L'injera sert de pain, d'assiette et de couverts, aucun éthiopien ne peut s'en passer. Différentes préparations apellées wat sont servies à coté ou sur l'injera.

IMG_6460_thumb[1] La plus célèbre est le shiro, une mixture de farine de pois chiche et de piment. Le gomen, à base du chou cuit dans de l'huile et le messer, fait de lentilles.

Les végétariens n'ont donc en général pas de soucis à se faire. Aussi, les jours de jeun, le mercredi et le vendredi, on trouve partout lefasting injera avec des portions de toutes les préparations végétariennes évoquées plus haut.

Coté viande on trouve le doro wat est une préparation à base de poulet, le figel wat fait de chèvre et le bere, du bœuf. Le met réservé pour les occasions particulières (cérémonies, début et fin de jeûn) est une viande crue façon steak tartare, le tere sega.

Les plats sont évidemment toujours agrémentés de berbere, la fameuse épice éthiopienne.

Les marchés sont le reflet de la cuisine locale, ils n’offrent pas beaucoup de variété. Coté légume, l'oignon, la tomate, la pomme de terre et le chou sont rois. Coté fruits il est bien difficile de trouver autre chose que des bananes, des oranges (souvent vertes) et des papayes.

IMG_6503[3] L'Ethiopie est incontestablement le pays du café. Un long rituel, véritable cérémonie e st organisée à chaque préparation. Les influences italiennes étant toujours présentes, lemacchiato et cappucino sont très consommés. Le thé, shai est aromatisé avec de la cannelle ou d'autres épices, et toujours un tiers de sucre.

Les jus de fruits frais sont appréciés, celui d'avocat plus particulièrement. Il peut être mélangé avec de la mangue ou de l'orange.

Le tej est considéré comme le vin local fait. La préparation est à base de miel et d'herbes séchées réduites en poudre. Le thalla est un alcool souvent fait maison à base de teff et d’herbes séchées

La consommation de bière est aussi importante, la mousse préférée des éthiopiens est définitivement la Saint Georges, mais on trouve aussi des brasseries Dashen, Harar, Bati, Bedele et Castel partout dans le pays.