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Fasika – An excuse to eat A LOT of meat

10 May


Last weekend was Ethiopian Orthodox Easter, the end of a 55 day fast, and the return of tibs! Tibs, a half kilo of red meat sliced, diced, and served with injera and awazi (spicy berebere sauce) is back on the menu. The last 55 days of fasting has meant no meat products, including milk, eggs, and cheese. For some more devout orthodox, it has also meant no eating before 3pm every day.

But why 55 days instead of the 40 days of Lent? Apparently weekends don’t count so the fasting really is 40 week days… but you still have to fast on Saturday and Sunday so it ends up being 55 days.

The point is, everyone is now eating meat. You can hear the chickens and roosters every morning, the goats that know their number is up, and the dogs who can sense all the carcasses coming their way. It’s quite a cacophony of potential food. I always a enjoy a rousing game of “goat or child?” their brays sound so much alike.

Woke up to this guy’s intestines chilling in a bucket outside my house the other day… yummy. His name was Carl.

Woke up to this guy’s intestines chilling in a bucket outside my house the other day… yummy. His name was Carl.

Like other Easters, Fasika is a family holiday. I was able to eat with a few families here in Gondar, stuffed full of doro wot (chicken stew) and siga wot (red meat stew… goat). Luckily I avoided the home brews of tella and arake, the former a grassy, watery beer, the later fire in a bottle.

But I got a great surprise at my coworker Edward’s house! His brother who lives in America had sent over some Red Label Scotch.  Clearly I drank it on the rocks… I’m not solidifying any stereotypes about foreign women on that one… oops.

Fasika at Ed’s … morgan couldn’t make it, didn’t know he had put up the sign haha

Fasika at Ed’s … Morgan couldn’t make it, didn’t know he had put up the sign haha

Even though I’m a ‘homatarian’ also known as I don’t buy meat at the market and only cook vegetarian meals or care package meats in my house, I’m happy to have meat back in the restaurants.  And the price of eggs will finally go down.

So Melkam Fasika (Happy Easter!), the S’aom  (fasting) is over and we can eat siga (meat) again!

Cooking in Peace Corps Part 2

9 Feb

No fridge, no oven, no problem! Ironically the fewer ingredients and appliances I have, the more creative I get. This could also be related to the time in the day I have available to waste experimenting on cooking now (answer: a lot).

But mostly I’m surprised by how much I can get away with that I would never have considered in America. Here is a list of things that I would have refrigerated at home that I definitely do not here, and they are totally fine:

–          Eggs

–          Butter/margarine

–          Most vegetables

–          Unopened cheese (not really fair because I either get single servings or non-fridge needing kinds from packages)

–          Mayonnaise and other condiments

–          Leftovers

–          juice

–          Milk

Ok that last one isn’t really true. If I had real milk I would refrigerate it, but because I don’t have a fridge, I have discovered the glories of powdered milk. Nestle, you got me, I’m addicted to NIDO fortified powder. I mix it with water and can make it as creamy or not as I want, use it for cereal, tea, add it to hot chocolate packets, mix with tomato paste for soup, oh man it’s great. I realize that was legitimate product placement there, but I would not complain if some savvy marketer found this blog post and shipped a lowly peace corps volunteer a few tubs of Nido… no? Worth a try, it’s expensive!

The other adjustment is using a dutch oven. Basically I bought a giant pot, and I put a smaller pot inside it on one of my stove burners so the heat gets all around it. For one of my site mate’s birthdays last week we made a cake… on a stove. Dutch ovens are cool. So you can send me muffin mix packets… if you want.

I also don’t have a sink. Chiggerellum! (No Problem) I have 2 large plastic buckets that I pretty much use for everything. I did make the mistake of putting my hot skillet into one the other day and melted a hole through the plastic… oops. Ya, you don’t really need to remember that stuff with a metal sink, but a volunteer’s best friend, duct tape, came to the rescue  on that one(special shout out for Josh and my other theater workshop friends).

Cooking for Ethiopia Part 1

13 Jan

Different ingredients, super high altitude, and only a stove have meant a few culinary experiments as I adapt to my new life for the next few years. Mid way through our training we were issued a “Cooking in Ethiopia” Cookbook, put together by previous groups of volunteers. It has been helpful for some things (oh, that’s the bleach to water ratio to clean vegetables- oopsie), but other things are less helpful (a recipe for Hungarian Cocktail Sticks? Minden naw “what is that?” Or Fresh Fish with Coconut Sauce? What posh corps country do you live in?).

So drawing on my own experience in high altitude cooking, the spices I brought from home (thank you packing lists!), and a bit of daring I have created a few dishes of my own.

#1 – Breakfast for Dinner

Om nom nom eggs

Om nom nom eggs

Since I never buy meat (no fridge), I either get my protein at a restaurant, in the form of shuro powder (see below), or I eat eggs.  This is my version of a Spanish omelet. Tomato, spinach, and feta become tomato (yay same ingredient!), gomen (basically Ethiopian spinach), and laughing cow cheese (thank you care packages!). Then I make home fries with salt and olive oil.

#2 – The Sarah Waldorf Salad

Bleached Veggies! Om Nom Nom?

Bleached Veggies! Om Nom Nom?

This isn’t so exciting except that it’s fresh, uncooked vegetables! Food preparation is key here. Since I buy my vegetables from the ladies with the tarps on the side of the road, and they buy them off the trucks that come in from the fields, I can almost guarantee there was no FDA stamp of approval on those carrots. Chigerellum! (No problem!) Usually I cook down or boil my veggies, but if I want to eat them fresh there is a bit more of a process. I start with a bleach water solution (1 tbsp per gallon) and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Then I rinse them with filtered water (I put that in there so Peace Corps medical won’t get mad… sometimes I rinse with tap water, which I clearly never drink… cough couch). This salad features all sorts of local and care package ingredients: lettuce, gomen, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, raisins and crushed almonds and cashews (trail mix from a care package); and then the dressing is an olive oil, salt, pepper, and lime mix (no lemons here).

#3 Shuro with Rice

It's yummier than it looks

It’s yummier than it looks

Cross cultural dish! Shuro is a soupy spicy dish made from chickpea powder and berbere that you can find at any restaurant- sometimes it’s the only thing you can order. And at any time I would say 95% of Ethiopians are eating it for a meal. The other staple is misir wot (spicy lentil stew). Usually it is eaten with injera, but since I don’t have an injera maker, I make it with rice (pictured) or potatoes.  Shuro powder is available by the half kilo and you buy it like flour. You can get it with or without berbere mixed in. I bought some with berbere to cut out the middle step. To make it you chop onions and tomatoes, cook them down in a bunch of oil (I use less than the average Ethiopian, but then again my shuro doesn’t taste as good). Then you add about double the water you want for a serving (it will cook down) and add like 2 or 3 spoonfuls of shuro powder and whatever spices to taste (I like garlic and black pepper, since I’m a ferenji, Ethiopians will put in raw kariya peppers). It thickens up pretty quick, is packed with protein (yay chickpeas!), will last forever (my ½ kilo bag will probably last half the year because you only use a few spoonfuls per meal), and is super cheap (hey local recipes!). Probably going to be a staple for me. I usually wilt down some gomen as well to get a varied diet with some rough greens.

#4 Curry

Thank God for spice mixes

Thank God for spice mixes

Rice based dishes are going to a theme I think. Stir fries, curries, and pretty much any Ethiopian wot I will probably put over rice (so blasphemous). But again, rice is pretty cheap, lasts a long time, easy to cook and is a different carb than injera so I get a little variety. With all the dishes that are basically variations on a theme, it’s nice to mix up the spices. If the base is carrots, onions, rice and sometimes an egg or too, switching between a soy sauce stir fry and a shit ton of curry powder will get me through the next few months. What I wouldn’t give for some broccoli (and don’t even get me started on asparagus or bell peppers…) The point of this one is that recipes don’t matter and you can just experiment with proportions until it tastes good. This curry was made on the fly, probably couldn’t recreate it, but the moral of the story is that either pack spices (sacrifice space) or pick up some in Addis before you get to site (expensive).

Here’s what I brought with me (and am so glad!):

–          Curry powder

–          Italian mix (oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary etc.- like a grocery store brand mix)

–          Black pepper

–          Garlic powder (easy to find garlic cloves here, but sometimes nice to have powder instead of cutting up cloves every time)

–          Cumin (I put it in guacamole!)

–          Chili powder

–          Cinnamon (you can find sticks, but again, nice to have powder)

Other non- spice related things I brought and were very helpful to have that first week (and are better quality than what you could pick up here):

–          Non-stick frying pan or skillet

–          Good paring knife (which I basically use for EVERYTHING)

–          Good chef’s knife (just a larger knife)

–          A pot holder/oven mitt thing, which I use with a bandana in the other hand to handle my pots

–          Veggie peeler

–          Can opener (though probably not necessary)

–          Wine/bottle opener (you can get those here, but it was small so I threw it in)

–          Butter knife (wish I brought more than 1! Forks and spoons are easy to find and cheap, but knifes are hard and “expensive!”- for a volunteer’s budget anyway)

–          Zip lock bags

–          Measuring cup

Anyway, experiments in cooking to continue! Not pictured, I have also made a few tomato based sauces from scratch with pasta and garlic bread and whipped together a “mexican night” for the other Gondar volunteers with guac, salsa, lime rice and black beans (from another volunteer’s care package) and lentil fajitas. Cooking is fun here because it cuts out a lot of the day. The opposite end of the spectrum being that today for lunch I ate a handful of kolo (roasted barley) and a lollipop… so it depends on my energy level haha.

The Bunna Ceremony

10 Dec

Even though I have only been living here for just over two months (has it really been that long already?), there is one piece of Ethiopian culture I think I have a pretty good grasp on: The Bunna Ceremony.

Legend has it that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, in the south west of the country. True or not, coffee certainly has a large place in the culture here. I’m not talking “Ethiopian Roasts” from Starbucks, I mean the traditional coffee ceremony (called bunna in Amharic) that every Peace Corps volunteer has sat through at least 45 times by now.

Every special event, celebration, plain old 4pm in the afternoon, or 9pm at night calls for a coffee ceremony.  I will walk you through one as I got to help prepare the coffee from scratch. Now many of you who know me, are probably thinking how in the world did this coffee adverse girl get the luck of being assigned to the nation of the birthplace of coffee? She’s a waste a space. Never fear! I am officially now a coffee drinker. Not addicted yet, though I feel a slight headache coming on…

Though you really cannot compare this delicious concoction with an American cup o’ Joe. Therefore I am not a coffee “drinker” so much as I am officially a coffee “connoisseur,” and with such a now refined palette I will not bring my newly addict ways back across the Atlantic.


Ayu, one of our language trainers

Ayu, one of our language trainers

I think the best habit to come out of this ceremony is the presence of fandesha (popcorn). If you really want to get fancy and impress the neighbors you best make sure you have some popcorn (double points for kettlecorn done over the charcoal) ready. The other traditional accompaniment is a grass floor (not pictured). The “modern” version of this is a little straw mat died green to look like grass. I think this comes from the days when the floors were all dirt (most still are) and so only the fancy people could afford to put grass down—a sign of wealth.

bunna and fandesha

bunna and fandesha

Step 1- Wash the coffee beans that you picked out of your backyard, or if you’re a city girl like me (hey Gondar!) that you bought from your neighbor that picked it out of their backyard. Super fresh.

Raw Coffee Beans

Raw Coffee Beans

Step 2- Roast the beans over a traditional charcoal stove. None of you cheaters with your fancy propane burners! Be sure to waft the scent around the room (don’t know if this is traditional or because I smelled bad and my host mom wanted to cover it up).

perfectly roasted beans

perfectly roasted beans

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

Step 3- Grind the beans (by hand!) by crushing them with a mallet. While this is happening, be sure to “techawetchi” meaning talk about what’s going on in the town. Sanctioned gossip, all right! The word literally means “to play.”

Upper Body Strength is Key

Upper Body Strength is Key

Step 4- Boil the water in a jebenna and add scoops of ground coffee to steep. The jebennas are clay jug like things that considering I will not be brewing my own coffee anytime soon, will probably serve as beautiful flower vases. Machine espresso is also popular here (thank the Italians), but clearly everyone knows the best bunna bets in town are always jebenna bunna bets- the traditional way.

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!



Step 5- Add three spoons of sugar to a tiny cup. Maybe this is why I can drink it black. A quirk of our training region (the ARSI region) is that most people traditionally prefer bunna ba wetat, or “with milk.” Apparently not as popular up north.

Residual Sugar

Residual Sugar

Step 6- After a very finely tuned sense of timing (for me, the jebenna boiled over), you know the coffee is brewed. Serve 3 cups. This is very important, it is rude to quit after the first 2 because each is drunk to a specific toast. Cup 1 is for family, Cup 2 for friendship, Cup 3 for health. Don’t worry, they’re small.

3 Cups of Bunna... someone should write a book

3 Cups of Bunna… someone should write a book

All in all a bunna ceremony can take from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how much news you bring to the table, or how tired you are.  Along with the gorsha (feeding someone with your hands), the bunna ceremony is another traditional sign of love and friendship.

So I’m taking orders for Ethiopian roasts- but I will only entertain requests that come with care packages. I should have a PO Box in about 2 weeks! Keep your eyes peeled coffee lovers : )

Gobez Food Combinations

16 Nov

There are few food items here that are the most genius, clever, delicious combinations of tastes I have ever seen. Recipes and habits I will most definitely be bringing back to America, and cannot believe do not already exist there outside Ethiopian restaurants are as follows:

LowzShay- Peanut Butter Tea

Yes. You read that correctly. There is a tea with peanut butter in it that tastes exactly as you would imagine. Like melted peanut butter with tea. It is one of the most delicious concoctions ever invented and I don’t understand why Starbucks has not picked up on this yet.

Oatmeal Goop

I don’t know what this one is called, but it basically like cinnamon oatmeal in a drink form. It tastes like Christmas. It’s some sort of oat flour tea mix that is thick but you drink it from a mug. Did I mention it tastes like Christmas. Seriously, Starbucks, get on it.

Kaysir Wot- Beet stew

I don’t know if you’ve caught on yet, but the majority of food in Ethiopia is some kind of soupy, mushy liquid food. This is not a bad thing. Especially when you have beets, potatoes, garlic and spices all together in a heavenly mix. I’ll even give props to the berbere here (the infamous spicy almost curry-like spice mix used in basically every single Ethiopian dish ever).

Chocola Tibs- Roast Meat (usually ox)

This dish is literally a bunch of small bite sized bits of red meat charred to a crisp over charcoal. Let every man rejoice. It is served over a hot charcoal plate, sometimes with spicy peppers and tomatoes, and you eat it with injera and dip it in berbere powder (duh).

Tagabino- basically spicy humus

Tagabino is made from chickpeas and … you guessed it berbere. With onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes, we have all the staple foods here covered. It is cooked down to an almost playdough like texture and basically tastes like spicy humus. It’s awesome, not least because it isn’t as soupy as most wots. Plus it’s vegetarian so you can get it on Wednesdays and Fridays when there is no meat for the Orthodox fasting days.

Special Ful- Mashed Beans

This dish is a crossover from the Arabian Peninsula, but with an Ethiopian (read berbere) flair. It is basically garbanzo beans mashed with onions and garlic. But what makes it special you ask? It comes with scrambled eggs (and berbere) and sometimes even avocado! Plus it’s served with a baguette type bread, which is a nice break from injera.

Mar- Honey

Ya calm down- we have honey in America. But this is the real deal. It comes in huge vats and you buy it at the marketplace with the bees and honeycomb still floating in it and everything. Just a little protein, no worries! It is unfiltered and straight from the hives meaning it is thick and delicious. I will never eat honey that I can see through again. Worms, shmerms.

Somehow with all of this goodness I am dropping weight here. My worries of a carb filled diet were pretty accurate, but everything is so natural and the combination of new foods, stress, and probably a lot more walking have meant I’m slimming down a bit. Chiger yellum! (No problem!)