It was my birthday on Friday. For my two previous birthdays I was in some fabulous part of Africa, and loving it. I’ve spent other birthdays in some similarly wonderful places and had similarly wonderful days. It is possible I spent my 17th birthday in a remote hilltribe village on the Thai-Burmese border, but I have trouble remembering back that far. That trip was indeed a fantastic, and serendipitous one.
For my 20th birthday, I was in north eastern China and I cooked up a three course feast on a single plug in hotplate for more guests than I had chairs. Everyone had to bring their own cutlery, and many of us ate our risotto with chopsticks. I had bought a block of parmesan with me all the way from Australia, and managed to save it for three months so I could make a risotto with the beautiful range of mushrooms on offer at the local market. For dessert I served poached pears with home-made star anise ice cream. It was a treat in a place virtually free of dairy products.
I spent my 21st birthday in Bangladesh, where alcohol is banned, but I had a most memorable meal in a stilted restaurant on the coast as the sun came down. I had the best prawn curry of my life. The year before last, I was in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, staying with the head of the international law department at the Law School of the University of Kinshasa. I was very glad to be able to visit Académie des Beaux-Arts on my birthday to see the great work of art students from around the region. I went to market with the ladies of the house and we bought all sorts of goodies to prepare for a birthday feast. My main request was that whatever we served, we served it with fufu, the staple from Eastern Congo. It’s a firm dough made with Cassava and corn flour that is used to scoop various dishes on your plate; there is a serious art to making it though.
Last year I was in Uganda on a girls own adventure. We were in the village of a friend of ours, visiting his daughter, parents and siblings. It was a truly spectacular occasion, in the most humble of locations. We walked through the village to the local market. We met all the people along the way and awed at the beautiful, thriving and diverse crops of the area. In the evening we went to the local bar, and as the only white people to visit the village in at least a life time, we were treated as celebrities. Most importantly though, we had a great evening meeting all the wonderful people of Nyakasenye. For dinner, I had a soup of cows’ intestines, with millet. Not my most festive meal, but I understand it is highly nutritious and otherwise highly prized. For me however, it was a problem of texture. Heavens though, I went to bed on cloud nine after such a wonderful day.
This year, I am in no place to be heading off on an adventure. So I had my birthday at home. It was a lovely, quiet affair topped off with my tribute to such adventures at this time of year. My partner and I went to Fekerte’s Ethiopian Cuisine. I have incredibly fond memories of food in Ethiopia and the good chefs at Fekerte’s certainly did them justice. I was totally convinced he’d order Lega (Lamb) Tibs, a lovely spicy lamb dish served on injera (traditional pancake made bubbly using similar techniques to sourdough). He did not however; he had a beautiful beef dish in the wat cooking tradition of Ethiopian cuisine that uses berbere. I, having really missed the food served on Ethiopia’s many days of fasting, wanted a selection of traditional vegetarian dishes. I had atkilt alicha, a lovely sweet, mild vegetable curry with potatoes and carrots simmered in tumeric; red lentils cooked with onion, ginger, garlic and berbere; and sautéed spinach. It came with rice and injera. Perfect. A little piece of Africa, right here in Canberra.