But I wasn’t seeking thrills of a sexual nature. I wanted to eat. And to eat at a place I may never find on my own. Welcome to Culinary Cab Confessions, a short series about letting cab drivers decide where I’ll be eating. There’s a long-standing belief that taxi drivers hold the secret to a city’s best eateries; not the upscale variety, but the affordable, no frills type; the places where we may never think of going and in neighborhoods where we might rarely venture. Wherever I’m traveling in the world or if I’m home in New York City, I’ll be hopping in cabs and telling the driver to take me to wherever he–or she–likes to eat. And then I’ll be writing about it. If the driver is hungry and inclined, I’m always happy to have a culinary guide to the restaurant. Lunch is on me.
I needed no introduction to kitfo. I had read about it in my guidebook and hoped to try it while I was here. Kitfo is an Ethiopian specialty: raw hamburger meat. I know what some of you are thinking: eating uncooked meat in a developing east African country would be about as questionable a decision as Justin Bieber deciding to make a sudden, unexpected appearance wearing ass-less chaps at a NAMBLA convention. The guidebook and everything else aimed at non-Ethiopians strongly recommended to get the cooked version of kifto. But I wanted whatever Fekadu was having. He ordered for us and within minutes small cast iron bowls were set in front of us, each one layered with an ensete leaf. The server plopped a huge mound of minced, raw beef in each bowl, garnished with dollops of soft, spiced cheese. I was nervous. Was this going to be a turning point for this trip? An Ethiopian version of the Delhi Belly, the Addis Ababa Bowel Effusion? Fekadu went first and I followed. It was delicious. Imagine steak tartar but imbued with mitmita, a spicy chili powder and then doused with niter kibbeh, a spice-and-herb-infused butter.
I ate mine so fast that Fekadu scooped some of his kifto into my bowl. As we ate, sometimes with the spoon, other times scooping it up with injera, the ubiquitous spongy bread Ethiopians use as edible silverware, my new friend told me about how he dreams of taking his wife and their seven-year-old son to live in San Diego where his older sister has been living for the last 20 years.
“We will not find kifto there,” he said. “But I think that’s an okay trade off, no?”
And with that I raised my beer, Fekadu his soda, and our bottles clinked, echoing for a long second to the high ceilings of a restaurant I would have never found on my own. In the end, I took his picture next to his car–yes, that’s really Fekadu above–and he drove me back to my hotel.
So, where, you’re most certainly wondering, is Yohannes? I couldn’t tell you. After all, that’s what cab drivers are for.