Q: What do you call an Ethiopian walking a dog?
A: A vegetarian.
Remember that? You do if you were an American boy growing up during the Reagan years.
Pubescent males in the 1980s were masters of the tasteless joke. I mean, we were naturals, Mickey Mantles of merciless mocking. The morning the Challenger Shuttle blew up, it took my sixth-grade lunch table 15 minutes to figure out that NASA stood for Need Another Seven Astronauts. National tragedy our baseball-card collecting asses! It was a fish food joke! The same revelation occurred simultaneously in middle-school cafeterias across the country.
Oh, how the milk exploded out of our noses as we mocked the dead, the retarded, and the starving. Looking back, I'm most ashamed of the Ethiopian jokes that took America by storm during the '84-'85 famine. Sure, there were lots of fundraisers and Sally Struthers save-the-children commercials, but under all that were the mean, Reagan-era jokes. Hundreds of them.
Here was one of the oldest, most elegant civilizations in the world, the only African nation to resist colonization--ask an Italian about the "Stain of Adwa" and watch him burn--in the midst of a drought and brutal civil war in which the American government was manipulating and politicizing aid delivery, and our punk asses were making jokes (over lunch!) about how starving Ethiopians were so skinny they could slip down a bathtub drain.
I like to think everyone that sat at my lunchroom table back then is as embarrassed by those jokes as I am, that they too have learned something about the people of the Horn and their suffering, either through reading Gary Brecher's Ethiopia columns, or through contact with Ethiopian culture--its beautiful people and its delicious cuisine.
There's only one Ethiopian restaurant in Moscow, on the west side of the ring road just north of the Kurskaya metro. For nine years it was known as the Bungalo Bar, but last year it came under new management, who sensibly changed the name to Adis Ababa. We're using the upcoming anniversary of the name change as an excuse to finally review it. Not that we owe you an explanation for anything. If we want to review a 15-year old kiosk Nescafe machine, we'll do it.
You'd think that with the name change Adis Ababa might have switched the order of its menu, which leads off with 14 pages of Rooskie-Evro mash-up--from herring-and-potato starters to beef burritos. The four pages of Ethiopian dishes are sandwiched between this and a long drinks list.
Fans of Ethiopian in Moscow are lucky to have the real deal. With no competition--and only a trickle of Ethiopian students left in town; in the Mengistu days there were as many as 1,000 a year--Adis Ababa could get away with serving weak or downright fake dishes. But they don't. The trademarks of Ethiopian food are on target in every dish: lots of pepper and native spices, prolonged stewing of meat in imported oils, rich and fresh cottage cheese, and properly prepared Injera, the spongy, flat, and slightly sour bread that doubles as a utensil.
For carnivore's, a good place to start is the spicy and filling Ghoulash Adis Ababa (380r). Bigger appetites are directd to the pepper-y beef and onions dish called Zil Zil Tibs (450r). The Doro Wot (390r) finds a leg of chicken in a spicy dish of lentils, onion, pepper, and thick oils.
If you've never eaten Ethiopian, round up a couple friends, order a round of Hoegaartens (.5/190r), and ask for the massive "Dish of the House" assortment platter (600r).
Vegetarians can also get their Horn on here with starters like "Aybe -- Snack of the Shepard" (250r) a tasty cottage cheese spinach and spinach dish kissed with aromatic oils. There's also the extra spicy Atikilt Borona veggie mix (350r) and a fish dish, representing Ethipia's lakes region.