November 25, 2002 - Ed Gibbon: Kenya: First Ethiopian meal Circa 1990, by RPCV Ed Gibbon

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Peace Corps Ethiopia : The Peace Corps in Ethiopia: November 25, 2002 - Ed Gibbon: Kenya: First Ethiopian meal Circa 1990, by RPCV Ed Gibbon

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Kenya: First Ethiopian meal Circa 1990, by RPCV Ed Gibbon

Kenya: First Ethiopian meal Circa 1990, by RPCV Ed Gibbon

Kenya: First Ethiopian meal Circa 1990,

I had wanted to try Ethiopian food for a long time. I had heard about the spicy stews and the injera, eaten without forks or spoons. It is an unkind irony that Ethiopia has been known more for famine than fine dining, but Ethiopia does have one of the world's great cuisines.

After two years in the Peace Corps I was traveling around the world and was staying at the Iqbal hotel in Nairobi. (For those that have been to Nairobi, the Iqbal was near the Modern Green Bar.) There were a few Ethiopian restaurants in the tourist hotels downtown, but I wanted the "real thing" (and also, the less expensive thing). I wanted to eat with the local Ethiopians (migrants who had left their country for a better life in Kenya). Somehow I had heard of an Ethiopian restaurant in a neighborhood called Eastleigh. Besides the exoticism that appealed to me, it was certain to fit my budget better than the downtown places.

Getting to this "Eastleigh" was a problem though. I wanted to travel by matatu (mini-bus vans that run on regular routes) instead of taxi, but the matatu system was a bit daunting for the newcomer.

I decided to attack the problem by getting a local guide. One evening I walked from the hotel to the nearby Modern Green Bar. I spotted a pretty Ethiopian-looking woman and struck up a conversation. Striking up conversations with pretty women is easy in Nairobi's Modern Green Bar, but that's another story. Her name was Diana. I asked her if she knew Eastleigh and the Ethiopian restaurant there. She said she lived near it. I asked if she could tell me how to get there by matatu. She tried to explain how to get one the right bus, but it was too complicated. We arranged to meet the next day at the Modern Green and have lunch together at Eastleigh's Ethiopian restaurant.

Eastleigh, a long matatu ride from downtown Nairobi, was home to a variety of migrants and refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia. A busy neighborhood, none too clean, but typical of the sort of neighborhoods that surround African cities. It wasn't a place to be after dark, but seemed okay at high noon. I was surprised to see vendors selling qat (khat or kat) on the street.

The restaurant was very small, maybe a dozen tables in one room. Sadly I can't recall its name now. As far as I could tell, I was the only person there who wasn't Ethiopian. I felt welcomed by the restaurant owner, and mostly ignored by the few other patrons. The hostess spoke to Diana in whatever language Ethiopians speak, but Diana replied in English. A bit later I asked Diana why she didn't want to speak to the owners in their common language. She looked surprised. "I'm not Ethiopian," she said. "But everyone thinks you are, even these Ethiopians here in the restaurant," I said. She explained that she had a Kikuyu mother and a Greek father. That surprised me, but explained everything (including her name, which I assume is not a typical Ethiopian name).

I don't recall that they had an English language menu. We made it clear we wanted a big lunch. After a short wait we got what I later would learn was the typical Ethiopian restaurant meal: a big platter covered with injera, with dollops of chicken stew, beef stew, and a few vegetable dishs. Some of it spicy, some savory, all steamy-hot and delicious. We had the global drink, Coca-cola, to wash it all down. The owners seemed glad I enjoyed it. It all cost a few dollars.

On the way back I bought a little qat and tried chewing it, but I didn't enjoy it.

I later went to Eastleigh's Ethiopian restaurant by myself, and again with some young world-traveling Japanese women whom I met at the Iqbal. Each time the food was good. I asked other tourists at the Iqbal if they wanted to try it, but none had any interest in going to Eastleigh.

From time to time I enjoy a meal at an Ethiopian restaurant. As soon as I walk in the door and the aroma of Ethiopian cooking hits me, it all comes back . . .

A few Ethiopian recipes

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Story Source: Ed Gibbon

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia; Food



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