Dinner + Movie: Best of Africa’s Food Store + Lamb: Food and Drink: Smile Politely

An Ethiopian film deserves to be accompanied by an Ethiopian meal. What if Champaign-Urbana didn’t have an Ethiopian restaurant? I chose to make mine instead with ingredients from local grocery store Best of Africa.

Lamb (2015) opens in rural Ethiopia, inside a small hut with a father and son sharing a piece of Ethiopian flatbread called injera. The conversation revolves around food – or the lack of it. Ethiopia is apparently experiencing another drought, and that is why there was nothing above the injera; father and son ate only plain bread that night.

In the movie Lamb, a black boy sits in a black saucepan with a wooden spoon in a dimly lit room.  Photo by Kimstim Films.Photo by Kimstim Films.

For a country with a unique culinary tradition and beloved world-class cuisine that can be enjoyed in authentic Ethiopian restaurants everywhere, this is truly a sad scene. Later in the film, we see a celebratory feast where a good Ethiopian meal is served, and this time the injera is topped with lots of tasty meat and vegetables. There is dancing and music, people are happy, but the lamb was not served that evening.

At Yared Zeleke Lamb (not to be confused with the 2021 Icelandic film of the same title) is a film about the preciousness of food. A baby is sick because he lacks food. A chicken is sold to buy lentils which will feed more people for longer. The family garden is watered with urine because water is so scarce. A boy’s pet lamb is about to be slaughtered for the upcoming holiday season, and he must find a way to save her. So the title Lamb, a single word that also perfectly sums up the style of this film: a simple and direct story told visually without any exposition. Natural lighting is used throughout the film and the camera is always handheld. The authentic natural performances of the seemingly non-professional cast fit this style perfectly. In fact, this film feels like a cross between an ethnographic documentary and neo-realist coming-of-age films like Satyajit Ray’s. The Apu Trilogy.

In the mountains of Ethiopia there is a black boy and his lamb.  Photo by Kimstim Films.Photo by Kimstim Films.

Set in the beautiful rural landscape of the Ethiopian mountains, this feature debut from Yared Zeleke is a 2015 Franco-Ethiopian co-production that premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival which showcases films “with styles unusual and non-traditional stories seeking international recognition.” It was the first time that an Ethiopian film was officially selected to be screened at Cannes. Despite the elegant simplicity of its storytelling, the film also manages to cleverly engage with universal life lessons and themes such as innocence versus responsibility, individuality versus community, toxic masculinity, and artistry. to let go.

After the movie, I wanted to drive down to Chicago for dinner at Nebeb, our favorite Ethiopian restaurant at the moment, but instead we decided to cook our own Ethiopian dinner at home. Our favorite Ethiopian dishes are Doro Wat (Berber chicken stew), gomen (green cabbage) and timatim (tomato and cucumber salad), and for dinner afterwards Lambwe did Doro Wat for dinner.

The hardest part of preparing an Ethiopian meal at home is preparing the flatbread called injera. Injera is both the bread and the platter on which Ethiopian meals are served. In Ethiopian restaurants, the whole table shares a tray and everyone can try a bit of everything. Diners do not use spoons or forks; instead we tear off a little injera with the right hand (even if we are left-handed, There is a reason for this), then use the bread to pick up the food and bring it to your mouth. The best part of the meal is the end when everyone can eat the platter which has soaked in all the juicy goodness from all the dishes.

I decided to make injera from scratch, which takes a bit of planning as the dough has to be fermented and the process takes at least three days.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Fortunately, Best of Africa’s Food Store, our local specialty grocer in Urbana, stocks teff flour (2 pounds for $6.75).

Photo by Paul Young.

Teff flour, the main ingredient of injera, is an ancient grain that is naturally gluten-free and also known as the smallest grain in the world. Due to its size, it is difficult to remove the bran and germ when grinding, which means that teff flour in the store is always whole grain. Making teff is like making pancakes or crepes. I started by making a dough with a mixture of teff flour and wheat flour (ratio 2:1). Add a little water and a little salt, then leave to ferment at room temperature. You need to stir it once a day, and in about three days you’ll have a slightly acidic bubbly paste that looks like this.

Photo by Paul Young.

I used my cast iron skillet to make the “pancake” because it’s the largest flat heating surface I had.

Photo by Paul Young.

Since Berber chicken stew was for dinner that night, I decided to try a packaged Berber spice mix ($5.75 for 7 oz).

Photo by Paul Young.

Since the Asli brand spice blend didn’t have an ingredient list, I decided to experiment with a small batch of stew. Luckily I did as it turned out their ratio of cheyenne pepper to the rest of the spices was overwhelming. I couldn’t get enough punch in my stew without also making it extremely spicy, so I went back to my homemade version.

Photo by Paul Young.

Right next to the Berbere spice blend was an Ethiopian Shiro spice blend ($4.75 for 7 oz). Shiro Wat is a bit like an Ethiopian hummus. I had never made this vegetarian dish before, so I had to search the internet for clues. It turned out that the Asli brand Shiro spice mix was mostly chickpea flour with a bit of Berber spice mixed in, so all I had to do was sauté some onions and garlic in ghee, stir in a can of small diced tomatoes, then add the spice mix.

Photo by Paul Young.

It was like making hummus from a packed mix, but the Ethiopian version is so much tastier.

While I was shopping at Africa’s best food storeI also decided to pick up a few hard to find items for the next meals.

Photo by Paul Young.

In their expansive freezer section, I spotted some goat meat, so stocked up for my next Jamaican Curried Goat Stew ($26 for a 2-pound pack). How often do you see beef tongue? So I grabbed one for my next lengua taco feast ($5.99 a pound).

Photo by Paul Young.

Then I spotted a new brand of marinade that I had never tried before, so I grabbed a few bottles to test for my next oxtail and jerk chicken stew ($9 per bottle).

Photo by Paul Young.

They always have to put candy next to the cash register, right? It was a Jamaican style donut called puff puff (three for $1). Damn, I’ll bring some home for breakfast tomorrow. It goes very well with coffee, just like American donuts. They were less sweet and denser, but still chewy inside.

It was a fun shopping spree!

Africa’s best food store
208 Griggs Street West
Mon-Sat 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sun noon to 6 p.m.

Lamb is currently streaming on Kanopy, the free streaming platform for attractive non-traditional pricing. If you have a library card in Champagne or Urbanyour taxes have already paid for your free subscription.

Paul Young is a city dweller who likes to travel the world in search of good things to eat. So far, he has traveled through 22 countries and enjoys sharing his culinary discoveries with Cooking class where he will these same dishes.

Top image by Paul Young.