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Why I ate half a kilo of raw beef from another man’s hand

Ethiopia tradition says on the last night before the fast begins, fasters feast on nothing but Ethiopian bread (called injera) and raw beef.

Gary Bearchel

Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

When in Ethiopia, do as the Ethiopians do – even if it's eating half a kilo of uncooked meat from another man's hand.

Six months into our year-long adventure between Northern Italy and the southern tip of Africa, we spent a month in Ethiopia. It is a difficult country to get around by public transport, so the four of us hired a local driver and guide – the cost was reasonable, and the convenience too irresistible.

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Near the end of a taxing, two-week tour in the south, we pulled into a dusty little town called Wondo Genet. According to our guide, Wondo Genet's claim to fame is its hot springs, famous for once having Bob Marley as a visitor. But that is not what I'll remember it for.

The season of Lent was about to start, that's when members of Ethiopia's Orthodox Tewahedo Christian Church must fast for 55 days. During the fast only vegan food can be eaten. As a result, many Ethopians go out and feast on nothing but injera (Ethiopian bread) and raw beef on the last night before the fast.

Despite what any medical expert back in Canada might advise, my friend and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to join them.

We left our motel in search of the restaurant that had the best looking meats, our driver and guide were hungry, and we travellers were mostly curious and certainly very nervous. The shack my friend and I picked didn't look fit to serve food to chickens, but inside it was the kind of restaurant we were used to by then. Plus, my friend and I reasoned, given how popular the night was among locals, the beef had to be fresh. Right?

When the waiter came around, our guide ordered up two kilos of the stuff. Two kilos! My brain quickly calculated a horrifying answer: at half-a-kilo of questionable meat each, the following day looked like it could be a rough one, with a lot of time spent in the bathroom. But stopping to question the order seemed, well, out of the question.

We discovered another Ethiopian tradition that night – dinner guests are honoured by being hand fed. So, mouthful after mouthful, the dinner quickly turned into a game of seeing who could make who eat the most raw meat.

Thankfully, hot sauces and beer were at hand, and truth be told, after about two bites (and after we'd wrapped our heads around the idea of eating raw meat in such hot temperatures) it was actually quite … tasty. Just imagine the rarest steak you've ever eaten, but remove any notion of done-ness. Wrap it in weird, yeasty bread, add hot sauce, then eat it from another man's hand. Delicious. Seriously.

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The experience reinforced what we had come to learn: When you're travelling, more times than not, the right thing to do is just say "yes" even if your head says "no."

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