Exploring Food in Africa and the Middle East

Sandy recaps our food exploration in the Africa and the Middle East.

As we traveled in Africa and the Middle East over the past two months, we had the opportunity to try many different types of food. Our three weeks in Ethiopia and 10 days in Jordan provided ample time to sample many dishes. Our highlights are as follows:


Ethiopia

We found Ethiopian cuisine to be quite different from the food in other African countries. In Ethiopia the staple food is called injera. Available any time of the day, injera is a large piece of sourdough-like flatbread, which can be as large as 20 inches in diameter. Injera is made with teff flour and ferments for several days, making it taste somewhat lemony when eaten alone. However, it is usually served with one or more stews, some of which are very spicy. Darren’s favorite was tibs, which is a dish of sautéed meat. He ordered lamb tibs (the spicier the better) whenever it was on the menu. Ethiopians do not use utensils when they eat, but rather tear the injera into pieces and use that to scoop their food.

Coffee is a huge part of Ethiopian culture. It is grown all over the country and the traditional way to enjoy a cup is during a coffee ceremony. We participated in several while in Ethiopia, including one in a villager’s home during our Simien Mountains trek. First, the fresh coffee beans are roasted over a fire. Then the preparer walks around with the roasted coffee bean pan so that all in the room can smell the aroma. The coffee is then grinded using a traditional tool called a mokecha. After this the coffee is boiled with water and served in small cups. The grounds are brewed three times so it is polite to drink a cup after each brewing as the coffee tastes slightly different each time.

Since we love coffee we enjoyed taking part in each ceremony. We found the coffee to be among the best we have ever had!


Jordan

It did not take us long to begin our food experiences in Jordan, as the first thing we did upon arriving in the country was to have lunch with our guide. At the restaurant we were served three different types of hummus (one of my favorite foods). It is a puree of chickpeas, blended with olive oil, lemon and garlic and is great with pita bread. During our time in Jordan we found hummus available at most every meal, including breakfast. At breakfast we also tried za’atar, which is a mixture of thyme and sesame seeds, oregano, sage or sumac. To eat it, you pick up a piece of pita bread, dip it in olive oil and then in the za’atar mixture. Creamy, thick yogurt also accompanied breakfast and other meals.

After one of our days of trekking we arrived at the camp to find our Bedouin support person cooking fresh bread over a fire. Abud is dense, unleavened traditional Jordanian Bedouin bread that is baked directly in a wood fire by burying it in ash and covering it with hot embers. After the bread was cooked, it was taken out of the fire and thrown on a rock, dislodging the ash and embers. Fortunately the bread finished cooking just before a sudden rain storm came and drenched everything. The fresh bread was delicious!

One of our favorite dinners included maqluba, which is literally translated as “upside-down”. It is a dish consisting of layers of rice, vegetables and meat. After cooking, the pot is flipped upside-down onto the plate when served. While in Wadi Rum we had a special dinner prepared by our Bedouin host. It is known as a zarb or Bedouin barbecue. Meat and vegetables are cooked in a large pot buried in an underground pit in the sand. When our host dug up the pot we could not believe our eyes as he pulled out two racks of food: one filled with chicken and the other with a variety of vegetables. It was so good to eat!

Always available to drink was sweet tea. The sugar is boiled with the tea rather than added in after the fact. Some places sold very strong Turkish-style coffee to drink as well.

As we make our way to South America, stay tuned for more food observations.


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