Ful Medames Is an All-in-One Breakfast and Hangover Cure
Hailing from Egypt and popular across east Africa and the Middle East, ful medames is a mix of stewed and spiced fava beans, eaten by many Ethiopians for breakfast (or as a midweek hangover cure.)
Alle Fotos von Colin Cosier.
It's breakfast time in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, and locals are cramming into the Addis Sport Cafteria No.1. As the name suggests, they're here for number one ful in town.
Hailing from Egypt and popular across east Africa and the Middle East, ful medames is a heavenly mix of stewed and spiced fava beans served with a colourful array of accompaniments.
In Ethiopia, these include yogurt, tomato, green chili, onion, egg, and occasionally avocado. Locals unceremoniously mash this together and season to taste with salt, additional spices, and fresh chilies before digging in to piping hot metal bowls with bare hands and crusty white bread.
In other parts of the world ful medames is served with olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and flat breads.
Today, and on almost any given day, friends and colleagues, Belay Alemu and Tafik Degefu, squeeze into Cafteria No.1. on the edge of Addis Ababa's Mercato market. Said to be the largest outdoor marketplace in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mercato is a sprawling neighbourhood of stalls and merchants, trading everything from spices to spare parts.
The cafeteria is a tight operation and most customers appear to be well fed in under ten minutes. Renowned for its ful medames, today there are three versions to choose from: normal ful, special ful, or ful with tuna.
The regular ful is a modest portion for one, supplemented with an endless supply of bread. It's popular with Orthodox Christian Ethiopians whose fasting practice means they abstain from animal products at certain times. Meanwhile the special ful is large enough to share and is served with the full range of accompaniments including egg scrambled with tomato.
Chef Hikubazik Hagos works hastily at the front of the cafe in what resembles a pizza kitchen. Here, he boils the fava beans in a gigantic pot for five hours before serving while the remaining ingredients are pre-prepared in individual containers and ready to be assembled upon order.
"There's no standout ingredient," says Hago. "What makes ful medames special is the sum of its parts."
But Alemu asserts that there is a certain je ne sais quoi about Cafteria No. 1.'s take on the dish.
"This ful is different to what is served in other places. It's not too oily and the ingredients are always fresh," he explains. "It's hard to find good ful medames in Addis but this ful has the best taste."
Hagos can't keep track of how many ful medames he serves in a day. He just keeps serving until the pot is empty. The cafe is open from 6:30 AM until 7 PM seven days a week and while mornings are their busiest times, ful can be eaten at any time of the day.
The chef has worked at the cafeteria since it opened its doors 36 years ago but barista Tesfaye Webaw is a newcomer. He began a mere 30 years ago.
Another relative newcomer to the area is Sami Cafe, a famous juice bar next door to Cafteria No. 1 that has been operating for 25 years. After finishing their ful medames, many of the regulars head next door for fresh juice.
Here, the spris, or mixed juice, is the preferred beverage. It is mixed by pouring layers of fresh avocado, papaya, guava, mango, and orange juice on top of each other. There's no water added, no sugar, and no ice. Just pureed juice topped with a squeeze of fresh lime.
In Cafteria No. 1, Alemu and Degefu have finished their ful and are now next door awaiting a juice. As the pair both work at the local outdoor produce market, it can sometimes be hours before they are able to eat lunch. Understandably, they like to eat well and take their time in the mornings.
"Ful medames is the best meal to prepare us for a long day of physically demanding work," says Degefu.
The added benefit, they admit sheepishly, is that ful medames, together with a fresh juice and a strong coffee happens to be the perfect antidote to a midweek hangover, too.