It was Sunday afternoon, and Mom and I were both starving. We eagerly climbed the stairs to Lalibella Resteraunt, the rich scent of Ethiopian berberri wafting from the upper floor and filling our minds with giddy thoughts of good food.
“This is the best place to get beyaineut.” I informed Mom as we seated ourselves by a window, “They bring it out in individual steaming pots and you can fill your plate endlessly. I’m always stuffed by the time…”
“What would you like?” the waitress was already standing by our table.
“Two beyaineut, please!” I said without hesitation. Beyaineut is the traditional Ethiopian “fasting” platter. “Fasting” means that you aren’t given any meat or dairy – good news for vegans. Typically, a beyaineut consists of several rolls of injera* opened up on a large, communal platter, topped with at least six or seven different weuts* - firfir*, shiro*, misira*, gomen*, kik*, and either potatoes or cabbage or a spicy tomato salsa. A hollowed-out kariya pepper stuffed with garlic and onions is usually served as an additional appetizer. My mouth watered as I envisioned my upcoming meal…
“I’m sorry,” the waitress said, “we do not have beyaineut today.” My heart sank.
“Are you sure?”
“You cannot make it special for us?”
“No, I’m sorry. Only Wednesday and Friday.” Wednesday and Friday are weekly fasting days for devout Orthodox church-goers. I sighed.
“Well, I guess I will have shiro then.” Shiro is the vegetarian’s faithful standby. It’s super cheap, takes two minutes to cook, and is mighty delicious. Most resteraunts can whip it up for you in heartbeat, even if they didn’t have any prepared ahead of time.
“I’m sorry, no shiro today.”
“You can’t just go buy some for us really quick?”
“No.” I looked at Mom. She smiled patiently and began looking at her menu again.
“Well, maybe we’ll each get a salad.” She suggested.
“Okay.” The woman shuffled away with her menus under her arms to see about our salads. I apologized to Mom, and she assured me that it was no trouble at all, and we would just come back on Wednesday for beyaineut. The woman returned in a few minutes.
“Sorry sorry, but no salad today.”
“Yes. It is Sunday, we could not buy vegetables.” I was about ready to storm out of the joint in a huff, but Mom persevered. She took the menu once more.
“Do you have fasting pizza?” She inquired. The woman’s eyes lit up.
“Yes yes yes!” She crowed delightedly. So, we had fasting pizza – crust, tomatoes, peppers, and canned mushrooms.
On Wednesday we returned. Still no beyaineut.
* Large, spongy, sour-dough tortilla * General term for sauces * Crumbled injera, sautéed in tomato and onion * Lentils * Greens * Split peas
Today is typical day for Gimbie staff visiting Addis. We each have five different things on our lists of things to be accomplished. However, none of them can be done. Either the machine isn't working, or the signature is missing, or the office is closed, or the person is on annual leave... So, we're chilling in our crowded room at the Union guest house, listening to Bach organ and brass music on my computer. We plan to walk five kilometers up the road and visit Bambis - Ethiopia's largest import store (about half the size of a typical Safeway)- in order to add some excitement to our day.