Amalfi

Back from his African travels, DonQui Oaty now finds himself on the coast of Southern Italy. He is hoping to do a bit of work while at the same time taking in the ambiance and soaking up the sun.

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He is staying just outside Amalfi, sitting on a shady terrace, tapping away on his computer as he looks out over the Mediterranean.

He likes it here.

Why?

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It is not just the stunning scenery, although it is truly stunning.

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It is not just the winding medieval covered alleyways, although they are most atmospheric…

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… as is the fabulous Romanesque cathedral.

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It is not just the fabulous food — the superb fresh fish, the locally made mozzarella, or the perfectly ripe fruit and vegetables which seem to burst with flavour — although the food is indeed fabulous…

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… with the taste and scent the huge sweet local lemons permeating everything from risotto to limoncello.  .

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It is not even the superb wines although DonQui really enjoys them, especially the whites and rosés…

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… such as the Lacryma Cristi (tears of Christ) wines from the slopes of Mt Vesuvius not too far away.

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It is certainly not the hair-raising coastal road which is choked with noisy traffic and which the local bus drivers navigate with a frightening insouciance, flirting with the local girls rather than watching the road ahead. This despite the fact that there are only a few centimetres to spare between the edge of the road and certain death.

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DonQui Oaty especially likes Amalfi because here donkeys are properly respected. The donkey (ciuccio) is the mascot of Amalfi and his hard work, dedication and long-suffering heroism is celebrated in art.

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The Donkey Head Fountain is dedicated to this noblest of animals.

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… while shops and art galleries are stocked with donkey inspired ceramics and souvenirs.

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All this is right and proper thinks DonQui. After all the precipitous cliff paths around Amalfi are far more suited to donkeys than humans.

Bahir Zaf

For his last meal in Ethiopia before heading home, DonQui decides to try out Bahir Zaf. Run by the Tree Alliance  it is a training establishment for disadvantaged youngsters aimed at giving them the skills they need to succeed in the restaurant business. DonQui likes the idea — it is similar to the concept at the Old Boma hotel where he stayed in Tanzania a while back.

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Tucked away on a back street it takes the taxi driver some time to find the place and it does not appear to be in the most salubrious of surroundings. Once inside the gate, DonQui finds himself in a pleasant green oasis. The small restaurant has a few tables in the garden with others on a verandah overlooking it. As it is the rainy season, DonQui opts for the verandah.

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The atmosphere is laid back and casual and the clientele are mostly expats — many of them earnest looking NGOs of the non-carnivorous sort. Fortunately for them there is a wide selection of vegetarian options on offer — known as ‘fasting’ dishes in Ethiopia.

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The menu offers quite an eclectic choice. Despite the fact that it clearly identifies the food as ‘tapas’ some commentators on Trip Advisor have complained that the dishes are ‘ridiculously small’. Smaller dishes suit DonQui perfectly and so he orders two: the ‘fasting’ platter with anebabero injera, along with the lamb and red wine stew, a side of vegetable rice pilaf and a Habesha beer to wash it down.

Unlike the usual flatbread mentioned in DonQui’s previous blog, the anebabero is a sort of cake-like triple layered injera which comes in wedges. It has the same familiar slightly sour taste from the fermented teff flour.

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By his standards the dishes are pretty large for tapas — more like a descent sized regular courses. The food is good, the tastes interesting and DonQui does not feel bloated afterwards.

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He even has room for a desert — choosing apples poached in tej (Ethiopian honey wine) with home made ice cream. This is somewhat disappointing as the apples are a bit tasteless and the poaching juice rather watery with only of a hint of sweet wine.

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The ice cream was excellent, however, as was the coffee.

It may not be fine dining, but the food, the atmosphere and the super friendly staff, make Bahir Zaf a great place for a leisurely lunch. DonQui imagines it would be even better on a bright sunny day. Trust him for coming in the rainy season!

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DonQui enjoys himself so much that he does not see his human companion heading out to the taxi which will take them to the airport. Fortunately one of the friendly servers saves DonQui from being left behind!

Food and Drink in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia has a distinctive cuisine which DonQui would like to know better. The staple is injera – a very large soft flatbread made from fermented teff flour. It tends to be served rolled up and the diner unrolls it to place a spicy thick stew (wat) on top.

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Injera has a slightly sour taste and it takes DonQui some time to get accustomed to it. Dishes without meat are usually identified as ‘fasting’ since the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a number of fasting days when meat is not supposed to be eaten.

With only a few days in Addis Ababa, DonQui is only able to try out a few places and sample a limited number of dishes. He would have liked to try kifto which is a sort of Ethiopian tartare of high quality spiced meat served barely cooked or raw. Unfortunately he does not get around to it on this trip.

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A ‘Traditional Ethiopian feast with Cultural Show’ sounds frighteningly touristy to DonQui but dinner at Yod Abyssinia comes highly recommended so he decides to give it a go. The show is actually rather good and he does not feel like he has entered a tourist trap.

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The vast majority of customers are well-heeled looking locals and before long many of them are up on their feet and dancing along with the music.

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The food is excellent with an extensive buffet giving DonQui the chance to sample a wide variety of Ethiopian dishes he might not otherwise have come across. This is a good place to come with a group to share the vast array of food on offer.

DonQui is surprised at the large portions which seem to be offered up in the restaurants he goes to. At the Jupiter Hotel restaurant he tries out tibs fir-fir with injera. Tibs are roasted meats — in this case lamb. The fir-fir is a spicy tomato sauce with also has slices of rolled injera mixed in. The dish is is served with two additional injera, not than DonQui needs more.

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It is excellent but the amount is overwhelming and DonQui can barely manage half of it. He reckons that his portion could easily feed a small family. A Kenyan expat tells him that such large portions are increasingly common in Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopian beer is good. DonQui previously mentioned Habesha Cool Gold which is one of his favourite local bottled beers. Better still are the German style blonde and dark beers brewed on the premises of the Beer Garden.

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Catering to a mix of locals and expats this brew pub quickly becomes DonQui’s favourite watering hole. He particularly likes their dark beer but does not go as far as to try out one of the five litre towers. The Germanic influenced food is excellent — especially the chips and the Beer Garden’s signature grilled chicken.

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DonQui does not get around to sampling tej — Ethiopia’s honey wine. He does, however, drink plenty of the country’s most famous beverage which is coffee. The Ethiopians claim to have discovered coffee and they take great pride in it. Served in a similar way to Turkish coffee it has a smooth, slightly chocolaty taste which DonQui likes very much. At the end of a meal it is often somewhat bizarrely served with popcorn.

DonQui does Addis

DonQui cannot quite make his mind up about Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital city.

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At first sight it appears dusty, somewhat ramshackle and plagued by choking traffic and the devil-may-care drivers which are the curse so many modern African cities. On the latter point DonQui feels bound to say that the traffic congestion is not nearly as bad as in other major East African cities, such as Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam.

It would be surprising if the capital of one of Africa’s oldest civilisations did not have some things of interest. Scratching beneath the surface, DonQui finds some of it.

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Visiting the National Museum he meets Lucy — one of humankind’s earliest ancestors. It is not the best laid out museum in the world and DonQui does not linger but he feels it is well worth the trip. He also enjoys a short visit to the Ethnological museum which tells the story of the Ethiopian people.

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Most interesting of all is Holy Trinity Cathedral which is the last resting place of the Emperor Haile Selassie.

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It is also the last resting place of Sylvia Pankhurst — suffragette, turned communist, turned anti-facist who became a great supporter of Ethiopian resistance to the Italians in the 1930s.

DonQui had hoped to make it out into the countryside but the UN issued a warning of political violence in the surrounding districts. Their advice to DonQui was to stay in the city and so he does..

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All the locals he meets are friendly, outgoing and full of life — not least the wedding party he comes across.

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Their joie de vive is infectious.

Would DonQui recommend a trip to Addis Ababa? No, not really. The city is worth a day or two on a stop over to somewhere else but probably not a trip in itself. He hopes that if he visits again he will have the chance to get out of the city and see a bit of the country.

Cold Gold

IMG_1536 2After a long journey DonQui enjoys a much anticipated Habesha ‘Cold Gold’ brew at his hotel in Addis Ababa. It is a very good beer and he finds himself wondering if the labling would get past the UK’s Equalities Commission  or Advertising Standards if the Ethiopian brewery ever decided to try to export it.

Transit through Frankfurt

Heading out to Ethiopia DonQui has a 12 hour trip ahead ahead of him. This includes a crack of dawn hop from London to Frankfurt where he is to pick up his connecting Lufthansa flight.

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Landing in Frankfurt at just before 9am, there is plenty of time to make his onward connection which departs at 10:30. As it is the same airline flying from the same terminal, DonQui imagines himself enjoying a second breakfast in a cosy lounge as he waits. After all how far can it be from gate A10 to B25?

Full of optimism he sets off following the sign saying ‘Gates B20-60’. Turning a corner he sees another long corridor ahead. His bags start to feel heavy as he goes up an escalator and turns another corner, only to be faced with an even longer, desolate-looking corridor.

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The sign: ‘Gates B20-60’ continues to beckon him forward but by now it begins to feel like the carrot in front of one of his less bright distant cousins — always in front and never getting closer. What he thought would be a short jaunt followed by a rest in the lounge has turned into a 3 day camel ride through the desert without an oasis in sight.

A transit train ride, another security check, several escalators, and endless corridors later, DonQui finally arrives at Gate B25 just as his flight is about to board. It took him 52 minutes and he is not a slow walker!

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Naturally DonQui tries to avoid non-direct flights if he can. Recently he has transited through Amsterdam airport quite a few times. Each time it had been relatively quick and painless. Not so Frankfurt.

Oh well it could have been worse. At London Heathrow he overheard a distraught passenger, ladened with bags, trying to work out how to make an onward connection from Luton airport. The time and expense of such a transfer made DonQui shudder.

 

Asparagus Salad with Poached Egg

It is time for DonQui to try one of the dishes he was particularly proud of at the Dublin cookery school to see if he has mastered the techniques. Taking advantage of the last of the asparagus season he is preparing an asparagus salad with a few interesting twists.

IMG_0008He is particularly pleased by his efforts as he has had issues with poached eggs in the past. Now successfully manages to poach a near perfect egg. Not just once — but twice in a row!

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Ingredients (for 2 people):

A handful of lardons, or better yet smoked Italian pancetta or German speck. If these are hard to find smoked bacon bits could be used instead.

A good splash of sherry vinegar (2-4 tablespoonfuls). You could substitute red wine vinegar but as it will not be as sweet as the sherry vinegar you may need to add a bit of sugar.

Olive or rapeseed oil for the dressing (a ratio of 2 oil to one vinegar is usually about right)

¼ to ½ teaspoon of black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon of dijon mustard. DonQui is a bit iffy about mustard. When it is uncooked he has an almost allergic reaction to it. When cooked, as it is in this recipe, he has no problem at all.

One or two slices of black pudding (blood sausage for those outside the British Isles – see above photo) with outer plastic casing removed. This is not an absolutely essential ingredient but DonQui likes it and finds it gives substance to the dish. He is fortunate that his local butcher makes excellent black pudding.

A bunch of mixed salad leaves.

6-10 asparagus spears

2 eggs — the fresher the better as fresh eggs have thicker whites which set better when poaching.

a drop of vinegar for poaching the eggs (simple white wine or cider vinegar is best. You don’t need the expensive stuff)

A handful of croutons. These are included in the original recipe but DonQui did not think they added much. In future he will leave them off.

Making the Dressing

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Gently fry the lardons to render out the fat.  If you cook the lardons gently they should not need any extra oil to prevent sticking Take out and set to one side.

IMG_1431They are done when the fat starts to turn golden. By this time they will have shrunk considerably. Take out and set to one side. Pour off the excess fat.

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Gently fry the black pudding (a couple of minutes on each side for a ¼ inch slice) then set to one side. Keep warm if you like. Particularly large slices (like the 7cm one in the above photo) should be cut in halves or quarters. This should be done after cooking as if done before, the soft black pudding will tend to fall apart.

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Throw in the mustard seeds and stir around for a minute or two on a gentle heat.

IMG_1435 Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar.

IMG_1438Stir in the mustard until it is dissolved.

Then pour off into a small bowl. Gradually add the oil to the mixture until it is very well blended. Set to one side and let it cool.

Preparing the Asparagus
Gently bend the asparagus spears until the snap naturally. This will happen naturally between the woody end and the tender tip. Discard the wordy ends.

IMG_0822DonQui prefers to grill his asparagus (2-3 minutes on each side).

Another good way to cook them for a salad is to quickly blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling water, then plunge them into cold water to refresh. This stops the cooking process — bringing out the flavour and colour of the vegetable.

The Secret of Perfect Poached Eggs
Bring a pot of water to the boil while you prepare the dressing. Add a drop of vinegar. This will prevent the eggs from sticking together and helps the white to set more quickly and effectively.

Meanwhile crack the eggs into individual small bowls or ramekins

IMG_1426-2Create a vortex in the water by stirring it around, in one direction, with a whisk. You need to create a proper whirlpool in the water.
Drop in the eggs, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot and leave it alone for 4 minutes.
DonQui had never had any success with poached eggs before trying this method.

IMG_1236 2So far it has worked brilliantly every time.

The Final Dish
Prepare the salad by heaping the leaves into the middle of a plate and dressing them. DonQui has found that adding the lardons to the dressing adds extra interest and flavour. Alternatively they could be mixed in with the leaves before dressing.
Arrange the asparagus, black pudding, and croutons around the leaves.
Place the poached egg on top.

Enjoy!

Variations

DonQui has come to love the rich flavour of the sherry vinegar/bacon/mustard dressing. So he has experimented with other ways to use it after making a batch.

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For this delicious summer salad he uses fine slices of smoked duck breast in place of the asparagus, poached egg and black pudding. The dressing is exactly the same but the addition of a handful of chopped toasted walnuts amongst the leaves and a few fresh raspberries around utterly transforms it (not to forget the duck!). It reminds DonQui of the sort of dish he might expect to find in the south of France.