Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ethiopia - Cultural Food and Dance

mid-flight, no clue which timezone currently!

Abyssinia - where do I start?  This was one of the neatest, most amazing experiences we had while in Ethiopia.  I can't wait to go back someday!

Our visit to the restaurant Abyssinia started because we wanted to eat Ethiopian food.  Our guest house cooked well for us, but it was all American Food.  We wanted injera and wat!  We asked our translator for a good place to go, and she arranged everything for us!

Our agency's driver came to pick us up and we wound through the streets to a location across town.  When we pulled onto the side street where the restaurant was located, it was very busy.  There was a parking attendant to help find space for all of the vehicles.  When we finally found a spot, we proceeded to the restaurant.  It was so nice and fancy!  It had a little bit of the feel of the Rainforest Cafe in the Mall of America, if you've ever been there.  It was all done-up and made you feel like you were really in for a treat.

To get in, we had to have our bags checked and go through a metal detector.  That surprised me, but we just did it.  We didn't have to do that anywhere else - not even the courthouse!  We approached the seating host and gave the name of our reservation.  He took us to the FRONT ROW TABLE near the left of the stage!

At our table, there were brown padded chairs, low to the ground with tall backs.  There were a few low end tables near our chairs for our beverages, and a traditional, woven circular table in the center.  I'm sure there's a special name for it, but I just don't know it yet!

There were so many menu items to choose from!  I wanted to taste everything, but neither my stomach nor budget could do that, so we settled on a tibs dish as well as one made from ground chickpeas.

After our order was placed, a waiter came around with a large tin bowl and teapot.  We held our hands over the empty tin bowl while he poured warm water on our hands.  It felt so good!  We got a squirt of soap, scrubbed, and then he again poured water over our hands so we could rinse them off.

While we waited for our food to arrive, we heard the most wonderful Ethiopian music!  It was traditional music that I think is still popular and appreciated today.  I'm sure our driver has been to this place countless times to accompany other foreign nationals, but he seemed to be genuinely enjoying the music.

When the food came, the wait staff placed a very large, round tin plate on top of the round table.  It had a piece of injera covering it as well as rolls of injera on the sides.  Next came our stews, and the waitress scooped a large portion of the chickpea dish into the center of the injera, and then scooped a large portion of the tibs near each one of us.  It was very ceremonial, and I was never sure what would happen next!

Meals are communal, but you don't have to worry about double-dipping!  Each time you go to get some food, you rip off a piece of the injera bread with your right hand only.  You use the bread to protect your fingers from getting sauce all over them, and you pick up a small bite of the stew with your bread.  Then you take a bite of the food in your hand, or put the whole thing in your mouth.  When you want more, you break another piece of bread off to pick up more stew.

A year or so ago I took an Ethiopian cooking class and learned that meals are relaxed and slow.  It looks funny if you just take bite after bite after bite and focus only on eating.  Conversation should flow at meals, and eating is somewhat secondary.  I tried to remember this when we were at the restaurant with our driver.  I consciously took my time, reclined back in my chair to listen to the music for awhile, asked questions of our driver, and ate.

It was fun to casually rip off injera and grab for the meat or beans, all the while being entertained by this great music in front of us.  I got brave and tried all 3 spices that came with our dish.  One was a yellowy mustard that tasted of horseradish.  Another was a red powder with some kick, and I can't remember exactly what the third was, but it may have been more of a red sauce.  I'm so glad I tried these!

The dancing soon began, and I loved every minute of it!  The costumes were elaborate, and each dance had its own costumes.  I was very interested in the dances from the Oromo region, where Feven is from.

Zac and I took a few videos, but then the camera battery died!  It was devastating!  We had prime seats to record these dances, and no battery power left!  We got some good ones on film, but not the very best ones.  Those came at the end.

I can't even describe how cool these dances were, especially the ones at the end of the night.  It was simply amazing.  The dancers looked like they were enjoying themselves, and giving it everything they had!  The guys were phenomenal, doing that crazy kicking thing, throwing their feet way out in front of them.  It was amazing.  I think I had a smile stuck on my face the whole time.  I loved every minute of it!

As I watched and listened, my heart swelled with pride.  Ethiopia is such a wonderful place!  I am so proud that my daughter is from Ethiopia, and that I too have a connection to this great country.

When it was time to leave, we couldn't stop talking about the performances.  My ears were ringing like I had just been to a rock concert, and my heart and mind were energized by experiencing something so new and wonderful.  I think our driver was chuckling at us because we just continued exclaiming in the van how great it was!

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