“But I’m a photographer?”
“Sure, yes, but we have photos already!”
Which is what led to the extraction of these stacks of photographs from a desk drawer. They are of the particular vintage where it’s hard to tell if their patina is lent by a nicely-tuned Instagram filter or by the actual influence of an über-matte printer produced circa 1992. Habesha, a perpetual contender in the bid for Best Ethiopian Restaurant In Nairobi, opened its doors just six years ago, though, so the real question is when the printshop down the street most recently had an upgrade.
Injera, a very thin sourdough flatbread–texturally most like a crêpe–is made from fermented teff, a minuscule and extremely iron-rich grain produced by an annual grass native to the Ethiopian highlands. (Permit me a quick moment to geek out over language: the word “teff” is supposed to have come from the root “tff,” meaning lost, since the grain itself is so small.) Injera is spongy, wonderful for soaking up the juices of shiro (a stew of chickpeas and/or chickpea flour, onions, garlic, tomato & chili), a limitless number of vegetable curries, or the say-that-five-times-fast Zil Zil Tibs (spicy braised beef). When I asked the staff how many rolls of injera they make per day, they laughed and gushed: “120 to 150. A lot. But people here don’t eat as much injera as people do in Ethiopia.”
The catch: injera is no small feat to make at home. It’s typically made on a big clay plate set over a hot fire–but before you even light the match, you must first spend several days fermenting the teff, à là French sourdough. It must be smooth on one side, spongy on the other, flexible but not breakable, and just slightly sour. It’s a delicate balance. Luckily for us, we have a sack of teff flour in the pantry, a big skillet, and lots of willing quality controllers on hand.
For the results of what is sure to be a long, long process of perfecting injera for the home cook, you can get yourself a copy of Im/migrant Nairobi: A Cookbook on our Kickstarter, right over here.