Wednesday, July 24, 2013

You say you like Ethiopian food? Wait 'til you read THIS!

Ahhh... Ethiopian food: injera topped with spicy, unique stews and dips served with a nice honey wine and topped off with a sweet, sweet, delicious bunna (coffee) at the end. For us foreigners, this is what we know as Ethiopian food. It's tasty. It's delicious. People love it.

Although "Ethio-pizza" does not qualify as one of the three hidden gems below, it was  still fun to eat!

But there is a whole 'nother side to Ethiopian food that I did not know existed until I visited Ethiopia. Ethiopian food has three "hidden gems," to which I had no previous exposure. The first time I encountered them... it was like love at first sight.

Behold, I unveil to you the three hidden food gems of Ethiopia!


#1. FRUIT SPRICE


Layered Goodness!!
Sprice (sounds more like "spreece") means "mixed" in Amharic, the national language in Ethiopia. Ethiopians make this delicious layered smoothie with fresh, ripe fruit and serve it with lime on the side. You can drink it using a straw or spoon it all up to make the pleasure last longer. A good Sprice is thick and full of flavor, never watered down.

The layers usually consist of: creamy avocado smoothie in the bottom, followed by a middle layer of thick guava juice, topped by naturally sweet and thick mango juice plus a final thinner layer of papaya or banana smoothie.

This flavor rainbow is brought out in a huge mug and sometimes topped with vinto, a super sweet sugary sauce that we always opted out of.

The best part of Sprice? It's a great way to start the day plus you get at least 3 servings of fruit.

We usually found Sprice in most fruit shops, especially in bigger cities like Addis Ababa, Gondar, Lallibella and Bahir Dar. Unbeknownst to us, most fruit shops have a small 'restaurant' inside where the secret Sprice as well as gem #2 are served...

#2. SALAD "ATAKELT"


The strangest, best salad ever: Atakelt
Oh yes, we found legit salad in Ethiopia! After having Sprice for the first time, we indulged in an enormous plate of fresh and amazing Atakelt, a unique and incredibly filling salad.

I would have never, in a thousand years, thought to put all the ingredients in an Atakelt together and serve it as a salad. Good thing someone else did because this thing is amazing!

Atakelt salad consists of a bed of lettuce topped with an entire, sliced avocado, an entire sliced up, boiled, peeled potato, chunks of ripe, sweet tomato, sprinkles of red onion, carrot and green hot peppers PLUS sliced bananas! Atakelt is dressed with vinegar (OMG had not had vinegar in months!!!), a bit of salt and, if you want, a dangerously spicy and tasty powder that tasted like a mix of ground pepper and chili.

I know it may not sound good but this strange concoction is one of the best salads I've ever had! We often had a giant Sprice followed by a giant Atakelt (it's so large we had to share one!) for lunch and were incredibly satisfied and full of healthy energy. I'm definitely adding Sprice and Atakelt to my diet back in California! Can't wait to make it, especially during Hass Avo season.

#3. REAL AUTHENTIC ITALIAN FOOD. I REPEAT, REAL AUTHENTIC ITALIAN FOOD, JUST LIKE IN ITALY.


Delicious italian appetizers @ Castellis in Piazza, Addis Ababa
A long, long time ago (2004), I lived in Italy for a little while. One of the saddest things about leaving was knowing that unless I went back to Italy, I would never, ever again have the opportunity to indulge in one of the world's best cuisines. Italian food elsewhere is not the real deal. In order to have the good stuff, one must go to Italy.

Or Ethiopia.

Several decades ago, Italy decided to try to invade Ethiopia and failed. Twice. Ethiopia's army kicked Italian butt and protected Ethiopia from becoming yet another European colony. Ethiopians are very proud of this part of their history and although the Italians were swiftly kicked out, they left a bit of culinary legacy behind. Many of the macchiatos and espressos found throughout the country's cafes are, of course, made in Italian espresso machines. Many Ethiopians even adapted spaghetti as part of their diet.

But one of the best parts of this culinary legacy is a restaurant in the heart of Addis Ababa called Castellis.

Italian food: oh how I've missed the REAL you!
One random night in Addis, we saw a sign for an "Italian" restaurant. There's only so much injera we could eat so we decided to give it a shot and boy am I glad we did! Apparently we lucked out because we needed a reservation but managed to sneak in the second they opened their doors at 7pm. Dining at Castellis was like being zapped back to Italy. Eliot had never ever had real authentic Italian food and was completely enamored by it. I couldn't believe the authenticity of the food here- even our Ethiopian waiter spoke Italian. A fellow Italian diner commented on my "good pronunciation" (wohoo!) when I ordered the fettuccine al nero di seppia con calamari and he vouched for Castellis by saying it was indeed like a little part of Italy and that the food here was absolutely excellent.

That night we indulged in the insalata di casa plus some home made cheese, sun dried tomatoes and grilled veggies as appetizers. Sadly, they were out of the fettuccine so we ordered the lasagna and some porcini mushroom raviolini as our primi piatti - to top it all off, all of the pasta was home made and they use real e.v.o.o (extravirginoliveoil)!  


Raviolini with porcini mushrooms: yes please, I'll have one of those!

Well, there they are! I have to admit when we decided to go to Ethiopia for the "food", I never thought I'd find these three gems there. Thank you, Ethiopia for a healthy and unexpected dose of FRUIT, SALAD and ITALIAN FOOD!

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