My roommates have an ‘agreement’. Each of them cooks for everyone else, and its usually something ‘traditional’. The first ended up making curry, which is not traditional for her, but something she’s very good at making. The second offered up vegetarian Italian cuisine (and then got roped into doing the pizza party). First roommates French coworker who often takes part in these did a French night that I had to miss. As such it’s just been myself, and my African roommate who needed to host. However, he was up first, and due to holidays and plans, these nights have been few and far between.
Last night I had plans. Not particularly clever plans – mostly consisted of going to the cinema and maybe rooting through the freezer for quorn nuggets for dinner. These plans immediately fell apart when I walked in to find one roommate cooking – after months and months of putting it off, he’d finally decided to do his own come-dine-with-me-night, and give us a taste of home. So discarded my plans and waited.
Said roommate was originally from Eritrea, but grew up in Sudan and Ethiopia before coming to Europe. As such he has very different tastes and upbringing (debating with him about ‘first world problems’ is one of my favourite things to do in the evenings as he has such a different view on things that seem to matter in this day and age). When it comes to food his one rule appears to be ‘the spicier the better’ and balks when you mix flavours (the very concept of Hawaiian pizza boggles his mind – sweet pineapple and savoury meat should never got together).
So we were pretty much prepared for a spice-explosion when he finished. I’d never tried African food before, but I’ve always been willing to try anything once. Although we didn’t actually get to eat until about 9 due to delays (and apparently I’m the only person in the flat who things 6-7.30 is too early for dinner most of the time), it was clear he was going all out. Even dressed in his traditional formal wear just to show us what he’d wear to a celebration. As for the food…
One half of the table was Ethiopian/Eritrean food, while the other half was Sudanese, give or take a few ingredients he hadn’t been able to source. On the right side I had flashbacks to a Simpsons episode when he offered up the Enjera.
The dishes included Keyih Tibsi – a meat stew in a spicy sauce. The meat was kept on the bone as apparently that’s preferred – boneless is missing half the point of eating. There was also ‘Ades and Bamya’ which was a vegetable paste including okra, and again was very spicy. The main dish on the table though was Shiro, a spicy tomato sauce/paste which is as much a staple of African cuisine as the Enjera – roommate used to eat it all the time back home. By far my favourite dish too, although again felt it was too spicy for me to really enjoy.
On the Sudanese side of the table, there was something I think he called ‘Fool and Ribda’, which was another spicy dish, but included falafel in the mixture as well as kidneys (one plate without for the veggie in the flat). Followed by a vegetable dish ‘molokhia’ – which was a green and ‘stretchy’ stew like substance. Reminded me a little of seaweed salad. Finally, the last dish was Salata Aswad, a mix of aubergine and peanut butter. The only non-spicy dish on the table but ironically found it too bland. Aubergine is not the most tasteful of veggies and the peanut give it enough kick.
Where my roommate grew up, normally everyone would eat from the same plate, using the Enjera to get what you wanted. Since we didn’t have a big enough plate, we had to improvise and just grab from the tables. And yes, it really was a very messy (if enjoyable) way to eat. Though by the end I was dying for something that wasn’t going to burn my tongue off – and got a nasty surprise when I found out Enjera have to undergo a fermenting process to get the holes in their surface, so might technically have an alcohol content (was not happy with my roommate for keeping that from me until after I’d eaten).
There weren’t any African desserts to follow, instead my roommate brought out Baklava and dates, which were nibbled on while he showed us videos of dances from Eritrea and Ethiopia. As the finale, he brought out a portable type of stove along with some beans. Turns out making their own coffee at the end of the meal is also a big thing in Ethiopia, and that’s exactly what he did (only setting the fire alarm off once!). Not a big coffee drinker myself though, so retired before then to write up last night’s blog post.
Now, which the last of my roommates having performed their cooking night, I’ve realised it’s my turn, which is sending me into a bit of a tizzy. Everyone (with the exception of one), has cooked food traditional of their homeland. Stuff they grew up eating and enjoying. This becomes a bit of a problem for me as both options aren’t particularly easy. I really need to get my mother’s (or Nana’s if possible) recipe for Scotch broth (every family has a different recipe, handed down, but I never learned when I had the chance) so I have something to offer as a starter, but then there’s the main course. For Scottish cuisine there’s the classic haggis…but I have never made it myself. My typical meal growing up (that you know, didn’t come from the deep freezer section of Tesco) was either mince and tatties, or a roast dinner. Ignoring the sheer cost of putting a proper RD together, and the fact that I’ve never actually cooked one on my lonesome (just the concept of making roast tatties from scratch terrifies me), neither of those are suitable for a vegetarian, and puts me back to stage 1. At least the supermarkets sell vegetarian haggis if I was bold enough to test it. Any ideas?