A few days ago I posted my experiences and a recipe for Pav Bhaji. One thing it got me thinking about was how food is similar to culture and language. Every culture has their traditions and rites of passage. I might think, for example, that my visit to the Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple seems very different from anything I’ve seen. But when I look closer there is a lot familiar. And though our languages are different, some words sound the same, and there are common ideas that every language has words to describe: feelings, flavours, weather, and so on.
The same is true for food, I think. In our world there are so many thousands of different dishes, so many spices and different ways of using them. But then even as they’re different we have similar ideas. So many cultures have dumplings, for example.
And then there’s this dish: It might look like pav bhaji but it’s actually called Foul (pronounced “fool”) Medames and people all around the Middle East and North Africa have some version. Above you see the Ethiopian version from a restaurant in Toronto. It is a very simple, but hearty dish. Onions and garlic are fried and spices are added – in Ethiopian food it’s often a spice mixture called berbere. Berbere has a lot of the same spices used in India: ajwain, garlic, chilli, ginger, nigella, fenugreek, radhuni, and others like rue and basil (tulsi) that I see less in Indian food. And so the flavours are like distant cousins of the flavours in Indian food. After that, fava beans are added and mashed. Often, a bit of olive oil is added. The consistency and spice level is very similar to pav bhaji. The garnishes are similar: minced onion, chopped jalapeno pepper, tomato and often yogurt is used. And then, it too is eaten with bread. In this case it’s most often a crusty baguette.
In the end, whether it’s foul medames, pav bhaji or refried beans, this sort of breakfast is one of my favourites.