Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: African Contrasts 2015

A taste of Addis

ABOVE: Sunday morning in Addis Ababa

Sunday, our last full day in East Africa, dawned bright and sunny. There was no great imperative to be up and about, and in due course we enjoyed a leisurely but light breakfast at the hotel, with the aim of ensuring that we kept our appetites relatively intact for the main business of the day: a 3-4hr organised food tour starting later in the morning and stretching well into the afternoon. We had already chalked up several memorable experiences of this nature in various other parts of the world, and so were looking forward to discovering more about the culture and cuisine of Ethiopia.

Having signed up for the tour with a company called Addis Eats prior to departure from the UK, we set out by taxi just before 11am to meet up with our tour leader and any other participants at the Oh Canada café, bar and restaurant on Mickey Leland Street. Our guide soon arrived, as did the one other tour member, making for a neat little group of two males and two females. Our guide explained that, while this was normally a walking tour, she would be driving us around on this occasion; the reason was that this was an election day in Ethiopia and apparently there was a great deal of sensitivity over the possible presence of uninvited foreign observers. One of the lounge attendants at the Hilton had actually been chatting to us about this matter the previous evening, even suggesting that we should consider confining ourselves to the hotel on Sunday! Our guide, who had lived in Ethiopia for several years, clearly knew what she was doing, however, and the risk seemed minimal as long as we avoided coming into close proximity to any polling station.

During our first stop at Oh Canada, we sampled the quintessential Ethiopian staple injera, a type of soft flatbread with a trademark spongy texture and slightly sour taste, which is normally served with various meat sauces. The usual eating technique is to tear off a piece of injera with the right hand, use this to scoop up some sauce and then place both bread and sauce in the mouth. As the sauces are served on top of part of the injera, the bread therefore acts as plate, eating utensil and food.

Our main stop was at the popular and fairly upmarket-looking meat restaurant, Yilma. Although most Ethiopians are committed carnivores and cannot readily relate to vegetarianism, the Ethiopian Orthodox faith requires periods of abstention from meat consumption, somewhat inaccurately referred to as 'fasting'. Our guide said that rather than trying to explain to a waiter that somebody is a vegetarian, we should simply say "He's fasting", this being guaranteed to bring about the desired outcome. Another surprising fact about Ethiopian cuisine is that meat is widely consumed both cooked and raw, and we were each offered this choice. Although I have eaten professionally made Steak Tartare on several occasions and found it to be utterly delicious, I decided that I was really not up for attempting to consume cube-size chunks of raw cow flesh in flatbread. I stuck with the conventional, safe option. Bruce decided to be adventurous and subsequently suffered no ill-effects, despite having just recently recovered from an upset stomach.

Subsequent stops included visits to a fish restaurant (where the diner could be in no possible doubt about what he was eating), a burger & coffee bar (for another traditional coffee ceremony) and a juice bar (where almost everything, edible or otherwise, seemed to be bright green!)

All in all, this tour was another successful and enjoyable example of its type, even if it did try to nudge some of us outside our comfort zone on at least one occasion.

Although our wider trip still had a couple of days to run at this point, the remainder consisted of two fairly standard hotel-based evenings and the journey home. This therefore seems an appropriate time to run down the curtain on our 2015 African adventure. Without a doubt, my favourite destination was magical Zanzibar, with picturesque Stone Town, the island's natural beauty and its intriguing mix of African, Middle Eastern and colonial culture. It had been fun to revisit Kenya, however fleetingly, and the churches of Lalibela had delivered on their promise of being simply astonishing. We probably hadn't given Addis Ababa our best shot, but it wasn't the easiest place to get around in, and in any case, deciding to increase the relaxation content of a holiday is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

I was more than satisfied with my first visit to East Africa in nearly thirty years and, as ever, will enjoy rekindling the wonderful memories for a long time to come.

Sunday 24 May

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