Holiday meals ready to be served
“Single, married, busy or lazy,” reads an advertisement posted inside the compound of Bole Arabssa Condominium. With the huge number of ads posted here and there, it is very unlikely for a person to notice a particular ad. But this one stands out, the color, size and layout demands attention.
The ad, as posted by Yemeserach Tigabu, a cook, attracts those who need a home cooked holiday food. It breaks a huge amount of text down into chunks, “Whether you have a family to take care of or a demanding job, it seems that there just aren’t enough hours in a day…” it continues to read, laying out all the highly relatable modern day problems , like not having enough time, skill, space or sheer will.
Yemeserach’s ad, also titled ‘Yemeserach’ (as to indicate good news) gives out a generic location around the Arabssa area and an ever busy phone number.
Upon arriving at the said location (appointed schedule), visitors are welcomed into a communal compound where multiple pots bubble on wood powered stoves.
The aroma of simmering Doro Wot floated through the morning air, teasing the neighbors, who were just waking up. Everything about the compound, everyone’s wardrobe was infused with the rich scent.
“Some households have always hated how much work it takes to prepare Doro Wot on holiday mornings,” said Yemeserach, aged 72, who insist on being referred to as ‘Weyzero Yemeserach’.
“They don’t want to hack through an entire bird when they could just toss some Tibs in a frying pan or seek another alternative, like buying a well prepared food.”
Weyzero Yemeserach does not sell her signature Doro Wot every day, she only prepares them on special occasions like holidays and weddings, and there is a long waiting list, requiring people to make reservations days, even weeks before the occasion. “That is because I only make a limited amount each day. To ensure freshness, I don’t prepare ahead.”
Chicken butchering day is quite an event at the compound. When her nephew ‘Ba-be’ butchers, it is usually no less than ten-fifteen chickens at a time.
After dispatching the chickens, Weyzero Yemeserach and her two employees scald the birds in hot water to pluck the feathers. “This is how my grandmother once prepared Doro Wot,” she said as she held one of the birds above fire to burn off the remaining hair “she never used shortcuts.”
“You have to work painstakingly through every process to achieve the perfect dish.” Despite having employees who can do all the heavy lifting, watching them work was not easy for her, she liked doing everything herself.
Once the chickens were clean and dry, she took them apart with a sharp knife and just a few well-placed slices. Then she left them to marinate in a lime-salt solution for hours, shaking them vigorously inside the mixture every now and then.
“I tailor each order according to my clients’ personal preference; some ask if their food could be cooked in clay pots instead of steel to get that distinct flavor, some want Tej added to the sauce to add a hint of sweetness, and some insist I use oil instead of butter. Every request is welcome.” said Weyzero Yemeserach.
She does not have a secret ingredient, her clients are allowed to watch the whole process if they so desire. “What you see is what you get” she tells them.
“It is the time and labor you put into it, these will give you a perfect dish” she said as she chopped the spices and herbs into a paste like consistency, the swift and rhythmic movement of her hand chopping almost hypnotizing.
The whole process, from the nitty-gritty of butchering to the dainty way of serving it took more than eight hours. Her recipes are old school, she prepares everything by hand and never uses shortcuts, but not once did she use a measuring cup or a timer. She followed an innate sense of which one and how much to use for how long. “A good cook doesn’t need a measuring cup or a watch” she said, humorously.
When the food was ready, she took out small samples from each pot for tasting. There was no consistency; each sample tasted unlike the one before it. But they were all rich in flavor and had a pleasant velvety texture that can only be resulted from slow cooking. Depending on special requests, Weyzero Yemeserach charges 800-900 birr for one package (consisting of 12 chicken parts in stew and several eggs).
Meanwhile, women stirred large pots of onions in the backyard of Doro Bet Bati, a restaurant that has been running for more than 30 years.
Located around Meskel Flower, in front of Yared Church, this restaurant has been known for specializing in premium class Doro Wot.
For Simegn, owner of the restaurant, the quality of ingredients is as crucial as the process of making Doro Wot. Everything in her recipe, from the onions that seared into a beautiful shade of golden brown to the rich butter that she uses in place of water, or any other liquids are authentically Ethiopian.
“We are strict about our ingredients. We use Ethiopian shallots instead of heavily bred large onions. Everything has to be homemade.” Simegn said. She always took the time to ensure the dishes tasted as she thought it would.
Her clients swear that she makes the best Doro Wot “her dishes are better than anything I have had in one of the top notch restaurants, or even homes. I know it’s a very bold statement to make, but I promise you, it’s the best,” one client confidently said.
“My daughter lives abroad and I have always sent her a hearty Doro Wot I personally prepared at home. One time, I sent her Simegn’s famous Doro and she immediately called back to ask what I have been sending her the whole time. My own daughter preferred Simegn’s Doro.” She says it is unlike anything out there. “It’s even better than the ones we make at home.”
The Doro Wot is usually given to the client with a pot/container they bring from home; the whole Doro Wot (consisting of 12 chicken parts in stew and several eggs) is sold for around 1,100 birr. Orders have to be made a few days before the occasion as there is also, a waiting list.
Other well-known establishments that sell ready-to-eat holiday food go by the name ‘Tapu Prepared Foods’ and ‘Aziti’s Recipe’. Both of them have outlets in Bole, around the former Japan Embassy. Food from Aziti’s Recipe is produced in a farm-like compound around Gerji area. In addition to selling Doro Wot for around 750 Birr, they sell farm produced cottage cheese, ‘Nitir Kibe’ (spiced butter)) and Injera alongside many spices and herbs.
Tapu’s food is mass produced inside a factory located around Wosen, Yeka Sub City. Although some consumers point out that the food doesn’t “taste like home”, they rely on it because in addition to providing a wide variety of options on the menu, its food always tastes consistent and it has passed tests conducted by the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute.
Several items on the menu include: Frozen Doro Wot (two kilograms, no eggs) costs 800 birr, Ye-beg Wot (two kilograms lamb stew) which also costs 800 birr, and Kitfo (with collard greens, cottage cheese and traditional ‘Kocho’). The menu lists more than 80 food items like Dulet, Minchet Wot, Injera, and several types of traditional breads which also sell per kilo, or per serving. Orders are generally made two days before the occasion. Tapu offers two packaging options: a ‘Tapu’ branded plastic package and a plain plastic package for those who want to discreetly pass off the food as theirs when sending it abroad for a beloved one.
While eating out on a holiday is ‘unthinkable’ for most Ethiopians, these establishments are driving a food revolution by providing a service for people who don’t want to buy holiday meals from a restaurant, but doesn’t have the time to cook it either.