Part 1- My Food Experience in Ethiopia!



Just like every other place I have visited, my impression about Ethiopia and her people changed after an uninterrupted 6 month stay in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital city.

I still can’t forget the look on my mommas face when I first told her I was moving to Ethiopia. With a look suggesting disappointment, she asked me in pidgin English “Whetti you want go do for place weh people no even get chop for chop?”
Obviously, mom still saw Ethiopia as a famine stricken country, just like it was some two decades ago. It took me quite an effort to convince mom that things had changed over the years and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, had become a ‘portal of globalization’. She reluctantly believed me, maybe just because she trusts I wouldn’t lie to her, but never stopped reminding me not to hesitate going back home if I wasn’t comfortable in Ethiopia.

Mom later developed love and admiration for Ethiopia, thanks to the beautiful stories I told her about the place each time we talked; especially about the food.
I had read that Injera was the main food eaten in Ethiopia. The health benefits and preparation process made me excited to taste it. So when it was time to eat, I didn’t hesitate to order injera, which was served with ‘shiro’, a kind of sauce. I was hungry, yes I was, but tasting injera for the first time made me to loose appetite for anything else. I just did’nt like it and unfortunately could not pretend. But guess what? Now I miss it. Funny right?
Injera is made from Nteff flour. The flour is soaked in water and allowed to go through a 2-3 day fermentation process. After which it is baked in specially designed ovens in the form of very big pancakes. The fermentation gives it a sour taste and unique smell. It is usually served with sauce, vegetable and/ or meat, with the most common being ‘shiro’ (a kind of sauce made from a local bean and other condiments) ‘dorowet’ (sauce made with onions and chicken) and ‘tips’ (beef pieces). In fact, Injera is part of every Ethiopian meal; be it breakfast, lunch or dinner and an average Ethiopian eats injera at least two times everyday, either from a restaurant or at home.

So how on earth did I think I was going to survive in Ethiopia without injera? I gradually developed a strong love for injera and tips and when I later moved to a community of non-Ethiopians, where injera was not an everyday meal, I would go to a particular restaurant at least once every week to do my body some injera justice.
Then I also started telling momma a lot about this food I had grown to love in Ethiopia and she too apparently fell in love with it even without tasting it.
I remember her saying to me during one of our long phone chats, “I go really like for taste that ya njara ehhh”.
But what I didn’t tell mom was that eating raw meat is also a culture in Ethiopia.
Well, the thing is, only particular and soft parts of the animal are eaten raw- with plenty spices to make it delicious. Please don’t ask me if I ever ate it. But if you are invited to any Ethiopian celebration, be sure to find the ostentatious raw meat on the table or in your plate.
Another thing you should know is that Ethiopians are very dedicated to their religious practices, which directly shapes their eating habits. A majority of Ethiopians practice the orthodox faith, which is characterized by fasting and alms giving. Wednesdays and Fridays are official fasting days and on these days, you will only find vegetarian food as meat shops totally close on these days.
I was also fascinated by the table habits in Ethiopia. Here, people eat in a group and using cutlery of any kind is hardly ever part of the agenda. A large tray of injera is served to a group of about 4 persons, who simply use their fingers to eat.
Initially, I found this a little disturbing, especially in restaurants, but later realized it’s a culture of love and oneness these people grow up with. It seems, the meal is only complete when eaten as a group or family. I have an Ethiopian course mate, Teshome, who would hurry home during every break to eat with his family before coming back to class. I asked him why he preferred to go home even when the break was short and he explained to me that he would not be satisfied eating without his family. How nice! I said to myself.
Then there was this day I was invited to a dinner at the Kenyan Embassy in Addis to taste a Kenyan meal called ‘Ugali’. Ugali is what Cameroonians call ‘fufu’, made from corn flour.
Among those also invited to the dinner was a group of Ethiopians most of whom were teachers. Our Ugali was served in Ethiopian style, so we had to eat as a group. In the course of eating, I discovered it was normal to bite and suck a piece of meat or bone and put it back in the tray and another person would pick it up.
I found it a little surprising how comfortable and confident they were to share such intimacy with people they were meeting for the first time – then I quickly remembered that was the Ethiopian way of eating. How nice! I told myself again!

I will end here for now…
Next time, I will share with you the weather experience in Ethiopia. Until then…

Imma Mkong

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(4) Comments

  1. Nkwen Park

    I personally don’t love injera. And my views on Ethiopia greatly contrast yours. But there are a good warm welcoming people there yet at times I get the feeling there is something they ain’t saying.
    I must add that they eat raw meat here and that gave me the chills.
    On the brighter side, the beer is good!

    1. Manka

      Can you share with us your views. We are interested in having different perceptions of Africa to broaden our perspectives. What we have shared is a single view. We know there are many others. Please share with us

  2. Wale

    This is some kind of travelogue archiving. You should drag Kwame into this blog oo. I believe he could add some spice to this beautiful archeology of African ways of life.

    1. Manka

      Thank you for your recommendation. I’ll do that

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