An Early-Season Inland Hurricane and African Food

In spite of flash flood warnings, torrential rains, high winds, and flooded roadways, we drove to Little Rock for dinner last night. We had arranged to have dinner with two other couples, one of whom we had offered to chauffeur to the restaurant (we would have made the offer to both, but our vehicle is not big enough).

The drive to Little Rock was nerve-wracking, though I think I did a remarkably good job of hiding my terror. Each time a vehicle heading toward us on the two-lane road hit a flooded spot, spraying hundreds of gallons of water over our car, I felt confident I would be blinded long enough to fail to see a sharp curve in the road. But I didn’t reveal my intense panic. I noted at some point along the way that, had I realized the trip would entail driving through an early season category 5 inland hurricane, I might have stayed home. I think I saw my wife’s eyes roll at that comment. She had suggested earlier in the day that we cancel our plans, given the intensity of the rain and the frequency flash-flood warnings.

Despite the weather challenges, though, we made it to Kontiki African Restaurant in Little Rock. Not knowing I had stopped at a curb eight inches deep in flowing water, I let my passengers out in front of the restaurant. Fortunately, only the sole other male stepped into the rapids. After his experience, I pulled forward to an island, where I deposited my wife and our other friend. I left them in front of the restaurant, under a covered walkway, while I parked the car. I tried to avoid getting soaked, walking from the car to the walkway, but my umbrella was inadequate. Walking forty feel in a howling thunderstorm with near-horizontal rainfall virtually guarantees one will be soaked. And I was.

Not surprisingly, the restaurant was almost empty. When we arrived, only one customer was there, waiting for her carry-out dinner. Another couple and, later, a single man, came in. The couple stayed. The man was there for carry-out.  Normal people, it seems, stayed home during the ferocious downpours.

Our meals were tasty, but I much prefer east African food (i.e., Ethiopian) to west African food (i.e., Sierre Leone). The countries are at about the same latitudes, but their foods are radically different. I started with pepper soup with beef and potatoes, then had jolloff rice with beef stew. My wife had jolloff rice with chicken. Some of us shared our food with others, but there seemed to be some reticence. Maybe I imagined it. I had a taste of moi moi one woman ordered (a dish on the “special of the day” board, not on the regular menu). It was tasty and very interesting. From what I’ve been able to find online, it’s also called moimoi oleleh and is described as a savory black-eyed pea pudding. Some recipes suggest adding salmon to the pudding before putting it in the oven, but last night’s sample was vegetarian. One of the group was enamored of plantains; she ordered two plantain dishes. Her husband ordered a dish that came with a large serving of couscous, which he does not like. Another of us ordered cassava leaves and rice, expecting the dish to be served over leaves. In fact, the leaves were ground into a mush of sorts and mixed with fish and various other ingredients. I would like to have tasted it, but when he first offered, I had no room on my dish so I declined at the time. I felt uncomfortable asking later. Odd, that awkwardness when dining with people one doesn’t know extremely well.

The drive home was much, much better. We took a different route, traveling I-30 to Highway 70, the Highway 128, as opposed to driving on Highway 5 (the road we took to reach I-30 on the way in). Not only were the roads better, the skies began to clear on the drive home.

The thought of Ethiopian food has my tongue screaming for kitfo or gored-gored or doro wat or key sega wat or zilzil tibs or damn near any other Ethiopian dish. I’ve never made injera bread, but I’m willing to give it a shot. I think it’s impossible to eat Ethiopian dishes without injera; if not impossible, I’m sure it must be considered illegal or a sin against man and nature. I’ve never been to Ethiopia, so I can’t say with certainty whether most or even much of the cuisine is seasoned with fiery spices. But my experience with the cuisine here in the USA suggests that mitmita and berbere abound in all sorts of dishes. Mitmita is, by far, the hotter of the two, but berbere can be pretty hot, as well. The heat of berbere is a bit more subtle than mitmita, which is by God bloody hot! Both, though, are required, in my mind, for proper Ethiopian cooking.

Unfortunately for me, the berbere in my spice rack is rather old. I need to replace it with a new supply. And I need a fresh new supply of mitmita, as well. And, of course, if I’m going to try my hand at making injera, I’ll need teff flour. According to what I’ve read (and what I think I recall from conversations with owners of Ethiopian restaurants in Dallas), the injera we eat in the U.S. is not quite like the injera found in Ethiopia. There, teff flour, alone, is used to make it. Here, all-purpose wheat flour is used in combination with teff flour. I don’t know just why, unless it’s a matter of cost (teff flour is not cheap, at least not here).

As I’ve written before, there is not a single Ethiopian restaurant in all of Arkansas. That is a damn shame! The nearest ones, as far as I know, are in Memphis. I’ve not visited any of them, but I should. There are plenty in Dallas. Only six hours away. Or, of course, I can make my own. I just have to get with it.

I could continue fantasizing about Ethiopian food, but I’d better prepare myself for the HVAC technician, who may finally show up after being scheduled three times. And, maybe, I’ll see the contractor who’s slowly (VERY slowly) refinishing my deck. The weather doesn’t look like it will willingly cooperate, though. Such is life. Chill, John, chill.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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