Hot, harsh and beautiful, Djibouti is the third smallest country in mainland Africa. Roughly two-and-a-half times the area of Cyprus, it’s got stunning deserts, soaring mountains and protected forests. But what it doesn’t have is a lot of people to enjoy them – just 884,000 at the last count, giving the country a population density of roughly 37 people per square kilometre.
Djibouti boasts the continent’s lowest point (Lac Assal, saltier than the Dead Sea). It’s also the home of Lucy, the infamous Australopithecus skeleton found at Lake Abbe. And there’s a fair bit of unusual wildlife: flamingos, longhorn beetles (endemic to the country, these little critters often have antennae longer than their own body!), and even elk – which are known locally as wapiti, and are the national animal.
Of course you wouldn’t eat an elk, even if you could catch one. No, what the locals really go for is qat – a medicinal plant that acts as a mild narcotic. Of course, in that it’s chewed rather than swallowed, qat probably doesn’t count as an actual food. Which brings us to the ubiquitous skudahkharis – a rice and lamb concoction (though you might occasionally see chicken, beef, or fish instead), spiced with cilantro, cumin and cardamom.
A close cousin of Indian biryani, skudahkharis is described as ‘the semi-official national dish’. It’s a favourite during Eid al-Adha, and is often served on top of laxoox, a sort of unleavened bread that also a popular breakfast dish when served with runny butter or honey.
Then there’s the wonderfully-named fah-fah (a classic Djiboutian stew made with goat, camel, or lamb, and vegetables and chillies, normally served with canjeero – a spongey bread that soaks up the sauce), the local sambuussa (which you probably know as the samosa, and is a favourite appetiser in Djibouti), and beignet de bananes (banana fritters, spiced with nutmeg) for afters.