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November 05, 2017

Ethiopian Chapatis - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post - 25

Cheeky Chapatis
I am very much happy and humbled by the feedback that I have received. I receive calls, E-mails, SMSs, messages from my readers who are pretty annoyed that their daily dose or serial (as they refer to it) has not yet been published or got delayed. There are many who demand that I write my entire Ethiopian Experience all at once. My niece, Dr.M. Sandeepthi remarked “Mama who has time to read it once a day? Why don’t you write it as a novel” She was visibly annoyed.

Some of my readers have expressed  their doubts as to if the incidents have happened as recited or if they are figments of my imagination. For example ‘did Sahithi really say all that about seven year difference in age and also if the Telugu lady was really annoyed at her husband saying Chao, Chao to her’. This is my response to those specific queries.

Oh Yes, if I were to think logically, what the readers are feeling is logical and realistic.  I am chronicling things as they have happened. I write with creativity and panache but i am not very imaginative. If I had imagination like my mother (the quite well known Telugu writer M. Hemalatha), I would have become a professional writer. But alas it is not to be! I can be a biographer and a feature writer but not a novelist. Things really happened the way they are recited.

Days were slipping away and we were getting into a routine. But it was tough to live out of a suitcase, especially as we had four huge ones along with four equally bulky cabin luggage! It was really irksome to search and not get what you want!

The one issue that was really getting to us was the lack of proper Indian food. The Ethiopian food is quite bland with zero spice and very little salt and chilly. And compounding the problem was the quality of rice available and the way it was cooked. The rice was broken and had the same taste and texture of boiled rice .

The cooked rice was soggy and moreover was accompanied by a tomato curry that had no taste! We were too smart not to open our very precious pickles that we had so lovingly carried all the way from India. They had to last for a good two years!

The women in our group took the matters into their own hands (literally). They raided the Ethiostar's kitchen. Tagging along were the friendly yet curious hotel staff. The Indian ladies found the kitchen quite passe, and discovered that the cooks were not trained to prepare Indian dishes. The lady brigade was desperate. They were at their wits-end. But they found that the hotel had wheat flour.

So a sight unfolded that made everyone gape. The Indian ladies cooking army was marching on. They plonked themselves in front of a huge table and made dough. They wanted to roll the chapatis. 

Chapatis being rolled with bottles 
There were no rolling pins available. We had bought rolling pins from India but had misplaced them. In desperation Padma, Vasavi and Tasneem rolled Chapatis from glass water bottles. The local chefs were fascinated by the entire process. They could not believe their eyes. That night we had nice proper Indian chapatis .

Very quickly we realized  that for the Ethiopian chefs, who have not rolled chapattis in their life, found rolling chapatis a huge chore and the results were frustrating. The chapatis would not be of any uniform size or taste and would be thick and quite bulky. But they were eaten!

Pranav at that age was quite a solemn boy. He found the entire eating experience to be very painful, but was philosophical about it. One night he brightened visibly. Seeing his excitement, I asked him “Pranav, what is the matter, you seem to be happy?” all the time trying to push the not so edible and burnt Ethiopian chapati into my mouth. It had just occurred to me that a country that prides itself as a land of sun burnt people is serving us burnt chapatis!

“Look, Nanna, look!” Pranav exclaimed “This chapati looks like Ethiopia”. Pranav was quite a geography buff and could easily identify many countries. The not so experienced Ethiopian cooks managed to make chapatis, one of which uncannily resembled their own country! At that time we did not have mobile phones. If we had, we could have captured the infamous Ethiopian Chapati in its full glory before it was consumed!

This hugely interested my two year old daughter Sai Sahithi. She would hopefully examine her own chapati and whisper into Padma’s ears “Amma, what does my chapati look like?” The chapati looking like something meant so much to Sahithi!  Not to disappoint her, Padma would tell her name of a state or a country!

Any name was okay for Sahithi; she just wanted to be one up on her smart alerky brother, Pranav Pratheek!  If Pranav had Ethiopia for lunch she wanted to have United States for her dinner! Oh, those were the days, when innocence reigned! 

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