I tend to consider myself well-traveled and adventurous when it comes to food. Despite my willingness to food explore, I have only just recently begun to immerse myself in African cuisines recently.
Ethiopia: by Way of Boston – by Way of Eritrea
My first experience was with Ethiopian food.
One of my college roommates and great friends, Henok, hails from Boston. But his family immigrated to the US from Eritrea, a country in East Africa that is north of Ethiopia, west of Sudan, and has the Red Sea as its coastline to the east.
He finally convinced me to try a restaurant here in Cincinnati called Elephant Walk that specializes in Indian and Ethiopian food. Ethiopian food is the closest thing that we can find to Eritrean food locally. After Henok had explained some of the dishes, we decided to get a sampler platter to try everything.
The centerpiece of the meal was injera, a flatbread made from teff flour, a boon to my gluten-intolerant fiance. We learned that the traditional way to enjoy this fare is to tear off a piece of injera and use it to pick up every morsel of food. We sampled each dish:
- Gome – collard greens
- Misir Wot – red lentils in a spicy berbere sauce
- Kik Altich – yellow peas in mild sauce
- Key Wot – beef stew in a berbere sauce
- Kitfo – seasoned beef tartare
Each dish was flavorful and unique. I had a hard time trying to choose a favorite, but I wavered between the gome and the misir wot. The collards with the injera are a tasty, juicy combination, while the spice from the red lentils was quite pleasant. I loved it so much we’ve already been back to the restaurant a second time to get the platter again.
The Next Thing in Food
52% of US consumers express interest in seeing more African food at grocery stores and consider African cuisines an upcoming trend in food (Mintel)! Datassential has specifically called for Moroccan cuisine to grow in the coming years. Africa is the second largest continent on earth, so exploring the cuisines is a time consuming – but delicious – process.
More specifically, there are African spices and seasonings, dishes, flavors, and ingredients starting to catch on here in the US. By now, it seems everyone has tried, or at least heard of, harissa. The chili pepper paste hails from North Africa with roots in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya, and has been catching on in applications like meat snacks, chips and dips. Expect to see more harissa in the years to come.
On a recent trip to England for a wedding, I noticed peri-peri flavored items everywhere. And it’s catching on here in the US as well. The spicy flavor originated in Mozambique (located in southeastern Africa) and spread with Portuguese explorers. If you like spicy, I highly recommend this spice.
Coming full circle back to Ethiopia and Eritrea, berbere is a spice blend from Eastern Africa that usually includes chili peppers, garlic, ginger, among many other spices. The heat of this flavorful spice made me sweat, but left me wanting more. Berbere is perfect for any savory dish that could use a pick-me-up.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to African cuisine. And, I will have no problem trying more, as other dishes and ingredients of African cuisines like rooibos, jollof rice, dukkah, chermoula, moringa, egusi, and many others are gaining in popularity. I can’t wait to try more!