Friday, 1 November 2013

East African Food

Last night I took That Person I Sometimes Go For Drinks With to an Eritrean restaurant. I say 'took', I wanted to pay this time because I thought I was going to FINALLY get paid from the pub (after five weeks) and he's paid the last few times we've eaten out. I felt like a suave old-fashioned gentleman who is very good at dates- I chose the restaurant and booked a table and everything.

Then I didn't get paid on time... But that's another story.

I wanted to go for Ethiopian food because we've had a conversation about the Ethiopian restaurants I went to in Paris. Well, I thought we had. When we sat down he said, "So why did you choose an Ethiopian restaurant then?" which makes me think that it wasn't him I had the conversation with... it was no one.

(That's the only reason I'm talking about him in my blog- because every time I see him and the conversation swings round to people we both know, he always asks: "So how did you meet TC and OJ then?"
And every time I say: "I met them through my blog when I was living in Paris."
And every time he says, "Oh, you have a blog yeah?"
And then he forgets again.
Unless it's all an elaborate ruse to throw me off the scent and he's actually reading my blog right now?

Anyway, I really wanted to have Ethiopian food again. The first time I ate it was about two years ago, at Restaurant Menelik in Paris. Menelik is at Brochant, across the road from a bar called Le Soleil, which is always filled with aged rock musicians and archetypal Parisians: men and women with long grey hair and velvet jackets, leaning into you to say something outrageous, then cackling away to themselves, showing their claret-coloured teeth and lips.

One night we walked a few steps away from the accordion music and raucous Parisians crowding the pavement- a dog-eared postcard of Paris- and into the unassuming restaurant across the road, where the smiley owner shook our hands and gave us all a glass of kir.

The walls were crammed with paintings of Africa and photos of famous Ethiopians. The music wasn't a subdued restaurant CD, made to play in the background, it was loud, traditional African music. I wish they'd had a dance floor. As it was my first time eating Ethiopian food, everything was novel. The food arrived on a large, spongy pancake, with rolled up pancakes for us to tear and pick up the food with. We chose a selection of hot meat dishes- finally some real spiciness in a city where mustard is the epitome of 'hot food'.

The next time I had Ethiopian food in Paris was at Sheger, a tiny restaurant in the centre of the city. There was a mix up with our table, so we waited outside on cobbled steps and the staff brought out Ethiopian cocktails for us to try- a minty, sugary drink with chunks of ginger in it, like a throat-tickling mojito. The dishes at Sheger were similar to the ones I had at Menelik, but they were fresher somehow, maybe because it's a smaller restaurant and they make the food to order. There were just two chefs- we could see them cooking- two women working away in the open kitchen next to our table. At the end of our meal the staff narrated us through the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.  The coffee pot was brought out on a tray that smoked with scented wood, burnt to ward off evil spirits.

I asked Twitter for Ethiopian restaurant recommendations and a couple of people said Adulis at Oval, even though it's technically Eritean. The two cuisines are really similar, but the two countries are not. While Ethiopia is still accessible to backpackers (I'd love to go but think it's more for experienced travellers), Eritrea is currently advised not to go there by the UK government. Llike lots of East African countries, people who actually venture there say it's an amazing country; that there are ruins and deserts and islands to see; that the people are warm and friendly.

Adulis was lovely, the staff were really friendly and we had so much food, we got the Mini Kirchat platter for two which would have easily fed four. It was a mix of meat and vegetarian dishes, spicy stews, curries and salads, everything cooked in niter kebbeh- a spiced, clarified butter, kind of like an East African ghee. We mistakenly went in hard on the pancakes, when what we should have done was pick up bigger amounts of meat using tiny pieces of pancake so that we didn't fill up so quickly. Strategy, people! With one alcoholic drink each the bill came to £33, which was good value considering I could barely walk when we left the restaurant.

We went to Jamboree  afterwards, it was jazz night. Neither of us could dance because we were so full, but I loved the music. It sounded so authentic, three of the musicians in the band sang and they had old-fashioned, vaudeville-style voices. As it was Halloween, there were ghostly flapper girls floating around and the owner carried round a tray ice cube fangs, swimming in Bloody Mary, a black veil draped over her face. I felt like I was in a scene from a film, or Boardwalk Empire.

Oh Lord, on our way from Adulis to Jamboree, I realised I needed to buy tampons. I ducked into a corner shop and told the Person I'd Been Out For A Meal With to wait outside. They only had massive boxes of Tampax and I had a tiny little clutch bag with me, so I bought a box then quietly told the man behind the counter that I was going to leave him most of the tampons.

He didn't say anything, but looked at the ceiling like he was being robbed at gunpoint and wanted to pretend it wasn't happening. I opened up the box and started putting tampons in my bag.

"I'm trying to be discreet." I explained, but he didn't reply.

In the end I left most of the tampons on the counter. When I got outside the Person Who Had Been Waiting For Me said: "Shall I go back and get the rest of them for you? I could put them in my pockets."

I said thanks, but no thanks. I didn't like to think of him strolling into Jazz Night, pockets bursting with tampons.


  1. He sounds nice! Better than one of those who get all weirded out about tampons etc.

    1. It would have been a very awkward situation if he had been weirded out!

  2. Ah this is great.
    I love a good tampon story me.
    Also menelik is brochant - but please don't hate me for correcting you

    1. Consider our friendship over.

      Merde, I was thinking of Tribal Cafe!