Injeria and Fish Goulash: Tales of African spicy food/Running stomachs


Last month, on the third week of November, I was in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. It was my fifth visit in the last four years. Ethiopian airlines makes travelling to Ethiopia a smooth breeze hence you rarely worry about the flight.  They have a new fleet of planes just to add to the ritmatazz of the airline. The Airbus A350s and 787 Boeing Dreamliner’s. The lovely air hostesses are just the icing on top of the cake. Anyways, Ethiopian airlines is one of the best airlines in Africa competing with SAA and Kenyan airways,  the 3 biggest airlines in the whole African continent. 

On this particular trip, I was travelling with a colleague to make a presentation to the committee of experts of the ACRWC based at the African Union buildings. We only had 3 days to spend in Ethiopia before returning home. The colleague i was travelling with had never been to Ethiopia before. He was very excited to finally see the diplomatic capital of Africa. We arrived very late at night in Addis Ababa and were booked at the Ambassador hotel. Addis Ababa is called the diplomatic capital of Africa due to the many diplomatic missions and embassies spread across the capital city. 

 Airbus A350

Ambassador hotel is famous with NGOs across Africa. It has a lot do with a certain service being within reach should the need to explore “Ethiopian cuisine”arise. Of course standard charges apply.

There are 554 hotels located in Addis Ababa and there is plenty of “Ethiopian cuisine” to  go around. Ethiopia is still an under developed country with high levels of poverty. Upon arrival at the hotel, we checked in and went to address food security issues. The hotel had prepared a buffet for its arrivals and they served dry hardened potatoes, some strange soup  with small pieces of beef that were overcooked and tasteless.

There was something that resembled salads on the sides. I noticed the lettuce mainly which looked like it had survived a machete.  My final choice was thevery spicy soup with the small chopped pieces of beef. Now you are wondering why we never ordered room service and we tried but got told the kitchen closed. We slept as very hungry disgruntled man.

Following morning, it was breakfast time. The breakfast was miserable and lets just end there. Ok, most hotels use the continental or English breakfast type of approach. This hotel has its own approach based on Ethiopian dishes like Kitfo, Wat or tsebhi, Shiro and Fit Fit. My colleague struggled to select what to eat because the food wasn’t named. The waitresses wasnt much help to my friends inquiries about the food as her English was shaky.  Even the restuarant manager English was basic with a heavy Amharic accent. (Amharic is the traditional language of Ethiopians). My colleague ate what he could and avoided anything he found strange. 

Normally hotels, put those tiny tags next to their dishes being served clearly stating what’s on offer to avoid food poisoning. In Ethiopia, it’s quite the opposite. No name tags. Just taste and see if you like it. This is conclusion comes from 3 previous experiences. 

By lunch time on our 2nd day, I was hungry and needed to refuel. My stomach had growled a few times. When we got to the hotel lunch terrace, the smell of the food was overwhelming with all sorts of aromas and i must say the food looked very scrumptious. I took Tsebhi and added it on top of the Injera, settled on my table and jumped in with my bare hands. My colleague watched in amazement as i massacred the whole lot in less than 10 minutes. I meant business.

After destroying that plate of Tsebhi and Injera, I returned to the buffet, helped myself to the Ethiopian Asa Goulash, and drowned it with a cold glass of water. Its very spicy, so water does justice.  Ethiopian Goulash is very spicy but when doone to perfection is quite tasty.  

My colleague saw my appetite and zeal for the food and wanted to try the   Injera and goulash. He ate and found it revolting. He didn’t like the texture of the fish goulash. He tried the Tsebhi without realising  it was lamb. He eventually got very sick and vomited twice. He said it was the lamb. 

Sadly welreturned home with him still being sick. From the day of food poisoning till we left, my colleague ate from fast food chains like the Park dale Burger and or Pizza. I recommend the burger s of Park dale Burger in Addis Ababa.

Back in 2015, I was hospitalized for 3 full days at the UN center in Addis Ababa because of food poisoning. My stomach has a low tolerance for certain types of foods as I later discovered. So the issue of food being clearly labeled in hotels is as real as it gets. I kept those UN hospital records for futue story telling to my grandkids. I plan to tell them that you can get sick when travelling and you need to be well prepared.  That includes knowing your blood type and allergies.  

My friend had turned a bit white during the food poisoning sickness and my worry got worse especially regarding the cost of transporting a coffin back home. Don’t even try to understand why id think something like that. Anyways our embassy  in Addis Ababa had not been helpful before and i had my doubts, it could be of much help should things turn for the worst. 

 One small tiny thing like eating the wrong food because someone forgot to add a small tag name can quickly escalate a problem.  Suddenly that small food poisoning sickness could recquire the involvement of your ambassador should you decided to exit earth. Mind you, African health care system is still at its infancy and some hospitals may just be make shift classroom turned clinic because of a lot of reasons like a civil war. 

Before you travel Africa, do a background search on the food served at your final destination, types and or spices used, understand the type of allergies you have, keep over the counter medication that might help, and copies of your medical records just in case you fall sick. Especially if you are a sickly person….
Other wise safe travels out there!

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