“You drink more coffee, you make me happy” If only my life were so simple all the time. The woman relaying this simple but life affirming message is serving our group of tourists and tour guides freshly roasted coffee. When I say fresh, I mean several minutes have not gone by since they left the pan she roasted them on. Over a coal fire fanned with expert finesse, the beans were brought to the perfect roast. My Seattle coffee standards and snobiness were destroyed; the simplicity and strength (jump out yo’ bones strong) are unforgettable. Strangely, Ethiopians now eat popcorn with their coffee, slightly sweet and very good. Coffee + popcorn? Not sure how it works, but it does. Despite being on a tour, I couldn’t be more pleased with where we are. It’s a place I would normally pass by without a second glance. That’s when having a local is invaluable and making such a personal faux pas of being a tourist on a tourist tour tuns out surprisingly well. The experience draws the line of knowing you can't be a local, but wanting to feel like one anyway.
Before joining, Jostein and I walked around the center of Addis Ababa under the midday sun. We decided to check out a massive Orthodox Christian Church. As we approached, the sounds of drums and singing grew louder. Around the corner of the main entrance was a wedding ceremony, and they were on the move. Dressed in nearly all white, the party danced and sang their way to where we stood. A friend of the groom smiled and told us 'traditional, very tradition'. He encouraged us to stay and watch, and yes the camera as just fine. The tradition was indeed rich, you could see it in the faces of the singers and clappers alike. The words didn't matter, the emotions were on the sleeve and in the beat. As we were walking away, a young boy squealed with laughter and ran at us. Tripping along the way, he showed the genuine welcoming nature of many Ethiopian's I've had contact with so far. High fives were exchanged.
Most of day was spent on this ‘eat Addis’ food tour, started by an American couple that Jostein has now becomes friends with. We started with injera, one of the most traditional Ethiopian foods seen on nearly every family table. Of course, this means your grandma does it different than your neighbors, which is obviously the superior recipe, and so on. It’s a fermented dough made from teff flour and water. Our food guide provides a detailed account of how the dough is maintained through partial boiling and remixing to keep it clean before it is steam baked for several minutes. My bread nerdom is enthralled. Most importantly, the result is a delicious thin and moist, crepe-like sponge with a strong sour kick. Served with various dips, here we get lentil and chickpea based choices, one spicy, one creamy, both right up my alley.
Onwards and into some of the best beef I’ve ever had. The joint is called Yilma. It’s twice as expensive as any other place in Addis, and for good reason. The owners run the farm, the butchery, and the restaurant. This allows them to know the quality of the beef and in turn they cook it perfectly medium-rare, which is a rarity to the blackened beef commonly found in other restaurants. They serve the beef two ways– raw and cooked. We have some raw cuts of something delicious, served with delicious chilli spice, some mustardy-horseradish and a lentil sauce, I dig in. You may be thinking ‘raw beef in Ethiopia?’ and you would be right in thinking this is a dangerous endeavour. But this all organic, hippie grown stuff that went down without any repercussions, and delicious at that. Cooked ‘tibs’ with onions top the raw stuff; the beef is tender and simply prepared. However neither can top the final serving of some of the best ribs I’ve ever had, all washed down with Turbo, a mix of cheap white wine, beer, and sprite. Strange, yes, but it works with the red meat.
We end the night we freshly fried fish and a juice mix of avocado/mango/pinapple/papaya. Barely able to waddle, Jostein and I stop by the local grocery store to stock up for our 3-night trip to Bale national park. It’s been months since I’ve escaped the flat-ness that defines Cambridgeshire and my craving for rolling hills and nonhuman sounds is reaching a crescendo.