Ficre's Shrimp Barka

From Elizabeth Alexander’s ‘The Light of the World’:
“The great food writer and old-school newspaperman R. W. Apple visited the restaurant [Adulis] and after tasting Ficre’s creations asked, in his article in the New York Times, ‘A Culinary Journey Out of Africa and into New Haven’:
‘Is all this authentic?’…
‘Tricky word, authentic,’ Ficre replied. ‘Tricky idea. Food ideas move around the world very quickly today, and if you went to Eritrea, you’d find American touches here and there. There are thousands of Eritreans living in the United States, and when they go home, they take new food ideas with them. For us, that’s no foreign than pasta once was.’
Adulis was a gathering place where people ate food they’d never imagined and learned about the culture and history of a country that most of them had never heard of. Ficre created legendary dishes such as shrimp barka that existed nowhere in Eritrea but rather in his own inventive imagination. Women called for it from St. Raphael’s and Yale-New Haven Hospitals after they’d delivered their babies; people said they literally dreamed of it, a fairy food that tasted like nothing else. Here is how you make it:”


  1. 4 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
  3. 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 5 very ripe and juicy tomatoes, chopped coarsely
  5. to taste salt and freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil (1 bunch)
  7. 15 pitted dates (1/2 cup), cut crosswise in thirds
  8. 3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  9. 1/2 cup half-and-half
  10. 1 pound medium shrimp (16 to 20), shelled and deveined
  11. 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  12. 2 1/2 cups cooked basmati rice


  1. In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, and sauté until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, and continue sautéing, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, for 2 minutes longer. Stir in the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover, and cook for about 5 minutes

  2. Add basil, dates, and coconut, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 5 more minutes. Add the half-and-half, cover, and cook for 3 minutes.

  3. Add shrimp to sauce. Cook, covered, until shrimp turns pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese, and then the rice, and serve immediately.

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