At first, I pledged not to keep cheat sheets of notes on each of my experiences in this 101 ventures. The whole point was to write as they happened, to capture the living, breathing memories almost as they were turning into memories, right? As life happened and I kept slipping behind in my target exploring-to-writing schedules, I wondered if I could just remember everything. Friends told me to take notes, or at least to write down the names of the places so I wouldn’t forget. In a few weeks, I caved and clutched blindly at the crutch of technology to support the decaying remembering-capacity of my brain. It’s sad, but true.
As I scrambled, I may have gotten some of the order mistaken of course. Now, I have a note-taking system and tracking method, but in the early days (read: January), things may have slipped through the cracks a lot more.
This was the first Saturday of the year. I hadn’t taken much time off in a really long time, and I was stretched thin, emotionally emaciated and depleted of happy-juice. Buck’s mood-boosting energy shot of a week ago seemed like a distant memory. I spent most of the day on Saturday on a gorgeous day indoors at a recording studio, volunteering to help a filmmaker with some audio recordings in my native tongue. The experience, so different from my regular day to day life, really helped me detach and compartmentalize the deluge of thoughts and anxieties of the moment, and to just learn, experience and relish.
5hrs of re-speaking and enunciating can dehydrate and tire you out, I found out. Yet, somehow in a good way, almost like an intense run or workout for the mind, constantly adjusting, adapting, and learning to do something that I wasn’t used to, and wasn’t churning out by rote. In good spirits, I met up with my friend and her out of town guests to explore what Ethiopian options we could find.
I love Ethiopian food! In my mind, it is very similar to the style of cooking I am familiar with from my childhood in Bangladesh, only maybe denser in consistency and spicier in some ways. I think of it as a cross between Bengali and Indian food, with Burmese and Mughal influences, almost. Even the unique sour bread that is so typically Ethiopian actually reminds me of a delicacy I loved as a child – made of rice flour and also intricately woven as a net, then folded into quarters to be eaten alone as a snack, or with a savory (often meat) entrées. Very different, yet so similar. Cross that with the texture of pancake and crepes, and you have an east-meets-west-in-africa concept.
I sometimes try to explain the differences between Bengali and Indian curry, and I feel like Ethiopian (and Burmese) curries come right smack in the middle of the spectrum. Bengali curries are typically more of a play on a few simple spices, complementing each other to bring out the tastes and flavors of the main ingredient they are playing the accompaniment for: such as the fish they are supporting, or the vegetables they are holding up for your sensory experience.
Typical Indian curries, in my view (and I’d love to hear what you have to say), are more of a complex interplay among a much wider palette of spices, harmoniously inventing a flavor profile that dramatizes the main ingredient, transforms it, if you will, with glamor and stylization. Revealing who you really are, as the main ingredient, is often much less the focus than the concerted “look and feel” of the collective – a reinvention.
Ethiopian curries feel somewhere like a bridge between the two curry-perspectives, in my world. There are more than a few spices, working together to really create a brand new canvas, and yet, there is a reticence, an almost carefully calculated holding back, so that you’re still not as engulfed in the glamor and pomp.
At Café Ethiopia, the chefs do an amazing job of asserting their “curry identity” through their artwork on those massive platters. We ordered a couple of different versions of the non-vegetarian platters, to share at the table. Quite promptly we were presented with two massive thalis (round platters) with various curries, lentils and veggies arranged radially atop a bed of their amazing sour bread.
The bread bed soaks up just a little of the flavors and spices, but does a surprisingly good job of resisting the wicking away of all the curry. A continuous stream of warm bread, rolled into convenient grippable configurations arrive at your table side, for your tearing and dipping pleasure. Utensils are optional, and communal dipping is the norm. It’s not a mindless stream of forkfuls, and as a result, you are actually engaged in the meal, in active strategization and playful combat and the art of thali twirling. The battleship of dining out experiences.
What added so much to the experience was the people I was with. A first time experience for some, a long-time favorite for others (like myself) and an exploratory adventure of politely explosive flavors with each mouthful.
Café Ethiopia was comforting and yet adventurous – at a time when I didn’t feel like I had the energy for something more daring and bold, but craved some sparks to ignite the senses.