While out stalking the city, what could be more rewarding to accidentally discover hidden gems of local soul food joint that bring super food out to the main street… and for me this unexpectedly rewarding ordinary everyday life experience is pure SERENDIPITY. Just recently while meandering through one of my favorite alleyways of Addis through a mesmerizing neighborhood with its own unique character, I accidentally end up paying a visit to the little healthy food eatery that enroll Addis Ababa’s Soul Food Joint club just recently. My curiosity not only actuates me to pay a visit but end up actually having a delicious and rewarding dish which not only divinely fill up my tummy but strikes a thought that there are interesting details worth giving homage to and most of all sharing it with the world regarding Ethiopian grain based culinary delights from which this particular post steamed out of. Addis Ababa is an interestingly full of character cosmopolitan African city and ILAN’S FALAFEL is an expat owned eatery that applauds my two favorite healthy grains and a super healthy seed for a vegetarian, fresh and healthy eating. Shimbra (Chickpeas), Bakela (Fava Beans) and of course the little dynamite Selit (Sesame seed) deliciously transformed into Falafel, Hummus, Ful and Tahini as the whole world knows it. Little bit intimidated by on what to choose from the wittily Amharic and English Menu … as I really love all these super ingredients for the main dishes served at this eatery but gladly with the suggestion of the Chef and owner of the place as a special order for the inquisitive first time scavenger like me, I end up having a Special Ful which contains a little bit of every ingredients – Bakela, Shimbra and Selit – a special mixture of Ful with Tahini complemented with a delicious one ball of Falafel and a drizzle of cooking oil, green pepper sauce and Awaze (deep red Ethiopian Berbere spice mix paste) for an Ethiopian touch. As they say you eat your food with your eyes and it actually tastes as good as it looked. The nutty flavor and creamy texture of the Tahini with the crushed Fava Beans that gives a chance of delightful chew on via the little chunks of the beans and with a bit of crunchiness from the fresh raw vegetable mix of tomato, red onion and cucumber that comes along with the dish which I choose to incorporate it into the mixture was filling but still light enough for a delightful eating experience. Talking about seasoning, then here comes the green pepper sauce and Awaze for that little bit of an exciting kick as hot and spicy just hits home for Ethiopians so I really loved the little note of Berbere that comes through at the back. And for the Chickpeas which I enjoyed through the perfectly browned and crispy top that quickly crushed to lead to the surprisingly savory, yellowish fluffy texture from the inside which I hardly chew on as it almost melt in my mouth and that was my one ball of Falafel which actuates me to order more balls of Falafel besides it is the signature of this eatery so I thought why not. Like many traditional Ethiopian cuisines these Middle East culinary delight in ETHIOPIA, do require to be eaten with your hands for a genuine taste and obviously to get intimate with your food as we Ethiopians do so this is where you can clean your hands before and after eating via the creatively made water faucet which resembles the Ethiopian traditional clay made water pot. The eatery is more like a street food vendor but not limited on takeaways only as it still provides a pleasant ambiance and craftsmanship even up on a little space it encompasses for someone who want to eat outside sitting on local produce – little bamboo chairs and tables with Ethiopian flair – under a yellowish little shady nook attached to little tree in the middle. The neighborhood that this small eatery located at is also another warm domestic detail worth applauding as I believe the LOCALE is also part of enjoying the overall eating out experience and it is filled with an inspiring validation of how opulent our ordinary lives are. Tele Medhanialem alleyway, is a particular neighborhood known as being an interesting bridge that connects two Addis Ababa neighborhoods – the heterogeneous Hayahulet Mazoria and The Contemporary Bole Medhanialem – via an asphalted straight road lined in between. The main signature of this particular area is its array of mostly clothing shops lined one after the other at both sides of the main street with their unique and interesting way of displaying what’s trending on Addis Ababa’s Fashion scene. Of course it is not only for shopping that the locals usually drawn to this affectionate and relaxed shopping district but also to meandering through while capturing its refreshingly unique aura and to relish in few of its soul food eateries hidden somewhere along the way and now this middle east culinary inspired eatery – Illan’s Falafel – could be one of those reasons to pay a visit.
Eating this delicious dish that let me enjoy my favorite healthy grains one by one via Illan’s Falafel, do really actuates me to think about Ethiopian grain based deliciously healthy cuisines made of these super ingredients – Chickpeas and Fava beans.
Starting with Shimbra (chickpeas), as an Ethiopian the first dish that usually comes to my mind when I think about this super grain is of course Shiro Wot – Ethiopian stew made of chickpeas flour – this slow cooked stew with Ethiopian Bereber spice mix is a vegetarian dish which is widely available throughout the country as it is almost an everyday meal for many Ethiopians. Shiro is one of the stews that we never get tired of eating over and over again next to our addictive Injera (Ethiopian flat bread made of fermented tef flour). We mostly love to eat warm straight from the clay pot Shiro with Injera for breakfast for an energetic morning even though Shiro can be eaten for lunch or dinner.
Shiro shines more than ever during Ye Abey Tsome (the long lent offering), other lent offering sesons scattered throughout the year and the fasting days of Wednesday and Friday for Ethiopian orthodox religion followers. There are eateries that dedicate to serve Shiro in particular throughout the city. The Falafel of course reminded me of the little pastry like fried chickpeas dough from one of my cherished experiences of walking through the old town of Harar – Jegol.
Shimbra Asa Wot is also another much anticipated and adored Ethiopian dish which usually enjoyed during the long lent offering. Shimbra Asa Wot is simply pieces of chickpea dough baked separately and added into slow cooked stew of finely chopped onion and Berbere Spice Mix.
For a sweet taste of regional delight from Dire Dawa, Halwa is a super sweet treat prepared from super ingredients of peanut, chickpea, and honey… heavenly nutty, sticky, crunchy, and surprisingly healthy SWEET.
Shimbra also serves as snacks like Kolo (mix of roasted barely, chickpea, nuts, and suf) or Nifro (simply mix of cooked grains like wheat barriers, chickpeas or barley).
So much the Falafel and Hummus made of Chickpea reminded me all these traditionally grain based healthy Ethiopian cuisines. Now it is time to put the spot light up on Bakela (fava beans). Siljo is at the top of the list for many Ethiopians when it comes to traditional grain based Ethiopian culinary delights made of fava bean flour. Siljo is also another much anticipated traditional cuisine enjoyed mostly during the long lent offering.
Ethiopians also use this lean protein healthy grain with wheat berries as a special once in a year dish called Gulban (simply cooked fava beans and wheat barriers seasoned with another Ethiopia spice mix – Mitmita) eaten to commemorate the last supper three days before Ethiopian Easter Holiday.
When it comes to Selit (sesame seed) it is the first and the only delicious Selit snack that Ethiopians enjoy for so long thanks to the delightful culinary influence and fusion. A round ball truffle like skillfully prepared of roasted sesame seeds and melted sugar which is very filling and delicious snack.
Originally Awaze is a paste made of Berebere spice mix, little bit of finely grind mustard seed mixed with local drinks like Areke, Dry Gin or Tej (Home Brewed Ethiopian Honey Wine) and this is exactly how many Ethiopians like it but of course different people have their own version of Awaze paste some just use water or oil to turn the Berbere spice mix into a paste.
The alcohol not only gives its distinctive flavor but a long shelf life. Even though Awaze goes perfectly with Tibs (Stir – fried meat) we also use it as a snack or an appetizer with Injera or bread.
Because of the fact that almost all the dishes of this eatery are meat and dairy product free which based on grains and vegetables, without a doubt it can become one of the fasting food destination for many locals. For visitors of Addis Ababa this can be an exciting healthy vegetarian destination and a perfect local spot when a break from Injera is needed in the adventure of traveling taste bud through Ethiopian exotic traditional cuisines.
“We should have ritual and ceremony, not just gobbling down some food to keep us alive.” M.F.K. Fisher