I’ve been here in Africa for a few weeks now, and recently moved into a coworker’s place to dog & house-sit while he’s out of town. It has been a great change! Being in an allegedly 5 star (I say 4 stars, max) hotel was nice and all, but being vehicle-less for those 2 1/2 weeks, I was mostly stranded there most days, except when some of my new friends & coworkers would come and whisk me away for a meal or an evening about town. The upside of living at a hotel? There’s a lovely pool, a good gym, and when you’re working from your room for the day, room service is quite handy! Despite all of that, I’ve been very glad to move into the house with the dog. And having my coworker’s car has been an experience as well!! I’ll get to reflections on driving in Djibouti later though.
First, lets talk about the food and drink! I’ve been finding the food available in Djibouti quite good – much more variety and quality than I was expecting, actually. I had figured that I’d have trouble finding favorite foods, and though there are a lot of things I can’t find here, I’m making do quite nicely. There is a pretty good variety of restaurants here, and though I have yet to find decent – or, actually any, buffalo wings (a weakness of mine), I’ve been dining pretty well. So far, I’ve been to a good brick oven pizza place (actually, two), a very tasty Ethiopian restaurant, a Yemeni fish restaurant, and a Lebanese restaurant, with a very large “Lebanese special” dinner. [And, just because I know my friend A in Toronto loves to see pictures of food from around the world, I have documented some of the dishes I’ve encountered along the way (Enjoy! This is for you, A!) in addition to some of the sights around downtown Djibouti that I’ve seen so far.] The drink selection has been interesting – it is a Muslim country, so it’s easier to find good fresh fruit juices than your favorite American beer, but not being a lover of mass-market American beer anyway, I’ve found some interesting alternatives. Kronenbourg 1664 (a French beer – not surprising, as this was a French colony), for example, seems pretty popular out here, as does Bavaria (a Dutch beer, I believe). Tusker, a Kenyan beer, is the best regional beer I’ve tried so far – really good stuff!!
Turning back to the food, the Ethiopian place we went to is a small restaurant downtown. It isn’t a fancy place, but you can get really good food and some live entertainment. The live entertainment consisted of some music and traditional dance. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but we caught the beginning of the show – not bad, but perhaps not exactly my cup of tea. Interesting nonetheless! We got what I can best describe as a sampler platter which comes with a plate of Injera, which is a sort of a spongy, pancake-like bread, that you use to pick up the food. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Injera) You eat Ethiopian food with your hands, though in this part of the world, eating with your left hand is impolite, as your left hand is the one you use for “toilet activities”. I’m still getting used to that, and catch myself using my left hand to break apart bread and that kind of thing, so sometimes I tuck my left hand under my leg and sort of sit on it to keep myself from using it unconsciously. There were some lentils, some chicken, hard boiled eggs, some beef, and as for the rest, your guess is as good as mine! It was all pretty tasty though. And luckily, I’m not a picky eater, so I tried it all! It’s good to have a sense of adventure when you’re in a new place, right?
The Lebanese place my new neighbor took me to was also really yummy. I wish I had been a little more hungry when we went though, because I took the waiter’s suggestion and got the Lebanese special, not realizing exactly how HUGE it was! It was great to get an idea of what the restaurant has to offer though, and I made sure to try some of each small plate put in front of me. There was hummus (yum!), an eggplant spread, yogurt sauce, falafel (not the best I’ve had, but not bad), some other falafel-like thingy, a beef meatball-y thing that tasted kind of like a very spiced burger, a chicken skewer, a salad, and a whole bunch of other small plates….. Next time, I’ll make sure to share this huge special!!
Something else I have really been enjoying here is grocery shopping. Sounds strange, right? But I’ve always found that it’s interesting to shop in the grocery stores of different countries. And an Islamic developing country’s grocery stores definitely offer different things than the North American grocery stores I’ve become accustomed to. But I have to admit, I really miss my local Trader Joe’s!! http://www.traderjoes.com/. So far, I’ve been to a few grocery stores. There is the French one (Casino) downtown, which offers the best in cold cuts, and I’m sure I’ll break down soon and head over there to buy some Prosciutto di Parma or Jamon Serrano. There is Nougaprix, which is a less expensive option, that also seems to offer a smaller selection. Then, there’s 5ieme, which has very tasty smelling roasted chickens outside that I’ll probably try soon. So far, I’ve found most of the grocery items I’ve looked for, so I’m happy about that, though the search for good bread is still on. I might go back to making my own, following the great Mark Bittman No-Knead Bread recipe (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html).
The best fruit, however, was at the outdoor market. The passion fruit (a favorite of mine, alongside Mango, but unfortunately, I don’t think its Mango Season), looks a little different than what I’m used to, but is SOOOOO super-fragrant. I picked some up, and will make a fruit salad with it later. In the meantime, every time I open the fridge, I am overwhelmed with the powerful scent of fresh passion-fruit. Yum!! I can’t wait to make my fruit salad later! Here are a couple of pictures of the outdoor market. I’ll be back with more observations another day, but while I still have a good internet connection today, I need to go do some work, despite the fact that it’s the first of three days off, in observance of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_al-Adha). So happy Eid to all, and so long for now! Will post again soon!
– the travelling chitalian