Bonjour from the Horn of Africa, where a snowy Buffalo weekend brought us face to face with the music, food, and history of Djibouti.  This globetrot marked our second visit to the continent’s easternmost region after our detour to Ethiopia several years ago. A former colony of France, Djibouti is a small and predominantly Muslim country located on the shores of the Gulf of Aden. We were excited to discover not only how the country balances its African, French, and Arabic influences but also what makes it unique.

On Saturday morning, Jess had already left for the farmers’ market by the time I rolled out of bed and got to work preparing what turned out to be a time-consuming (but very delicious) traditional Djiboutian breakfast. I had read that people in Djibouti typically eat a soft flatbread called lahoh along with a spicy stew called wat. (I made a vegetarian version of the stew from this recipe.) When Jess returned, she found me listening to some Djiboutian music as I worked. The breakfast was worth the wait:


I topped the stew with some cilantro and cottage cheese, the closest available equivalent to a fresh Djiboutian cheese called ayib. The bread turned out to be quite similar to the injera bread that will be familiar to anyone who likes Ethiopian cuisine.

We watched an overview of Djibouti from Geography Now! after breakfast, which introduced us to the country’s physical, cultural, and political circumstances. For centuries, Djibouti has exported salt to its less arid neighbors, and you can see the results of our weekend’s unplanned kitchen salt spill in the cover photo at the top of the page.

For lunch, Jess prepared a vegetarian version of this Djiboutian recipe for harira, a savory dish with Moroccan origins that is popular with Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan:


After a brief metro ride downtown to visit the bustling main branch of the public library, we returned home to watch a documentary from Russia Today called “Djibouti: A Small Wonder on the Red Sea.”

We worked together to cook a couple of Djiboutian dishes for dinner. While I prepared a hearty vegetable stew called maraq qudaar and some white jasmine rice, Jess took inspiration from a pair of Djiboutian recipes (here and here) to craft a traditional lentil dish. Here they all are:


Our entertainment for the evening was Beau Travail, a 1999 film about the French Foreign Legion from director Clair Denis. The movie gave us an interesting if somewhat mysterious glimpse into (post)colonial Djibouti. You can watch the trailer below.

The next morning, we heated up more of the spicy wat and enjoyed it with the leftover lahoh bread and cottage cheese. We then watched a short Tourist’s Guide to Djibouti recently uploaded to YouTube by an anglophone tourist who had spent a couple of days in the country earlier in the year.

In the afternoon we watched our final Djiboutian documentary, again from Russia Today, about the excitement and pageantry of a traditional wedding in the local Afar culture:

For dinner we enjoyed some more of Jess’s harira even as plenty of other leftovers still awaited us during the week ahead. Djibouti is a small country, with a name that may be amusingly difficult for Americans to pronounce, but our exploration of its special place at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East left us with full stomachs and warm hearts.

– Derek

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