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Injera and fast-food chicken

A staple of Ethiopian cooking, eaten in most households twice a day, every day, is “injera,” a kind of flatbread that has been described as “thicker than a crepe but thinner than a pancake,” but which to my mind resembles soft, homemade lumpia wrapper.

Injera is made from tef flour, resembling millet, although some modern recipes mix it with all-purpose flour. The flour is mixed with water and salt and allowed to ferment for a few days. When bubbles appear on the surface, the mixture is poured into a round clay pan or a modern metal injera cooker that resembles a waffle-maker.

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Injera is usually eaten with a variety of stews or wat, made up of either vegetables or lentils (for fasting days), or with lamb, pork, beef or chicken (for non-fasting days). Laid out on a plate, the injera is spread out and the stews are spooned onto the surface. Using only the right hand, one tears off a bit of injera to scoop up the wat and bring it to one’s mouth. Because it is fermented, the injera is slightly sour, but it makes for an excellent accompaniment to the often-spicy wat.

On our last night in Addis Ababa, we went to a noted restaurant that featured not only traditional Ethiopian cuisine, but also a floor show that featured a band playing traditional instruments and a dance troupe. Most guests were seated around low round tables where large discs of injera were laid out with a variety of wat mounded on top, to be eaten in common. But because our group was too large to be seated around a common table, we were summoned instead to a buffet that featured not just injera and several wat, but also salads, rice pilaf and pasta. Before partaking of the buffet, we stopped beside a waiter holding out a metal contraption like a portable sink, a pitcher of water and a liquid soap dispenser. At the end of the meal, the same waiter approached our tables and offered us the chance to wash our hands, which especially for those who had enjoyed some injera was quite a blessing!

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Evenwhile I was in Ethiopia, my husband promised me that we would have dinner upon my arrival at the newly opened branch of Bon Chon Chicken along Libis. We had tried the Bon Chon branches in Makati, and while we are big fans of this “Korean-American” eatery, we couldn’t make the long trip to Makati whenever we craved for its crisp, juicy goodness.

So you can understand our excitement when we spotted signs of a Libis branch “opening soon.” But when we drove by the night I arrived, we couldn’t find a parking slot and spotted a long line of hungry customers before the counter. We finally did make it to Bon Chon Libis a day or two after, but even if it wasn’t a weekend and we were early for dinner, we still had a hard time finding a spare table and waited quite a bit for our orders to arrive. Diners have the option of ordering either the popular soy-garlic flavor or the hotter version, with sides of kimchi coleslaw or pickled radish.

In truth, the family is divided in our opinion about Bon Chon. My daughter and I love it, but the men prefer Charlie’s Chicken, which is a local variant. My son, who trawls food blogs for culinary discoveries, brought us to a Charlie’s Chicken branch along Amoranto Avenue in Quezon City. It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall and when we dropped by, it was filled with bagets. You can order either legs or wings with or without excellent fries. The chicken comes to you heaped on buckets, and is truly crisp and crunchy. We girls thought the flesh was rather dry, though.

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Indeed, fast-food chicken is one of the more popular choices in what seems like an overcrowded market.

I have a nephew who grew up in the United States but looks forward to Jollibee Chicken Joy on his visits here. Now that Jollibee has branches in the US, he makes it a point to drop by any branch he encounters for his share of Chicken Joy. On a visit to a Jollibee in San Diego, he teased his puti brother-in-law: “Don’t you see? You’re the only white person here!”

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Another nephew is besotted with KFC. During family parties, all one has to do is order a bucket of KFC and he will be transported to food heaven. When he finally found a job, he treated his family on his birthday at, you guessed it, a KFC branch.

One of the highlights of our courtship days was a visit to Ramon Lee Chicken House in Sta. Cruz. At that time, Ramon Lee was one of the better brands of chicken, although I can recall that the chicken was rather stringy, although I did love the crisp, dark skin bathed in soy sauce.

Then of course there’s Max’s Chicken, especially its original branch in Quezon City that was, I suspect, a residential bungalow that slowly expanded into several eating areas. Max’s in my childhood was the place to go to for any big celebration, and I remember jumping in my seat in the car on the way there in anticipation of biting into a juicy chicken leg doused in a mix of Jufran Ketchup (which strangely went so well with Max’s chicken but only Max’s chicken) and Worcestershire sauce.

Max’s is still around today—with branches all over the metropolis and beyond—and its menu has expanded exponentially, including breakfast servings. But it has somehow lost its allure—maybe due to many decades’ familiarity, or because so many other fast-food chicken brands have taken over, offering novelty and excitement.

Old or new, our love affair with fast-food chicken continues. There was a point in her life when our daughter would eat nothing but fried chicken and we teased her that soon she would begin sprouting feathers. But who were we kidding? She had learned by our bad example because even now, out of the blue, we would feel a yen for a crunchy, sweet, salty bite and head for the nearest chicken outlet.

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TAGS: Bon Chon Chicken, Ethiopia, Fast Food Restaurants, food, Injera, travels
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