Ethiopia is unique in Africa in being the only nation not to suffer the often catastrophic effects that colonialism had on indigenous culture, and the mountainous fortress-like massive of the central highlands has meant that Ethiopia has been a closed and secretive nation for over two thousand years. Since the time of the Queen of Sheba, through the splendour of the Axumite Empire until the present day, a complex and exotic cuisine has developed. These pages cannot even attempt to do justice to the cooking of this poorly understood country, with over 70 different nationalities I can only hope to scratch the surface and record some of the more well known and common dishes. As with much of the culture of this unique African country, little cookery has been written down and the few texts that have been produced have simply, but often inaccurately, recorded westernised interpretations of some of the great Ethiopian dishes.
I have attempted not only to provide a variety of recipes representing a spectrum of Ethiopian cuisine, but also to give some of the ethnic and cultural background behind the dishes. This approach is particularly important in any attempt to describe Ethiopian cuisine since the country is not only unique historically, but in many other ways due to its amazing geographical diversity - ranging from the deserts of the Danakil which are below sea level to the enormous highland massive much of which is above 2,500 meters with peaks over 4,600. This geographical diversity has led to the evolution of a bewildering display of unique species of animals and plants, with many of the latter playing a central role in Ethiopian cooking. Unfortunately for the lover of Ethiopian cookery, this means that many dishes cannot be exactly duplicated outside of the country as some of the major ingredients are only available in Ethiopia. However, due mainly to the large number of expatriate Ethiopians that have travelled far and wide across the globe, substitutes have been discovered which can at least produce an approximation to the real thing. This inaccessibility of some of the raw ingredients is not the only problem in cooking authentic Ethiopian dishes, since many of the ingredients have to be fermented, cultured or ripened. In the same way that it is impossible to duplicate a fine wine by simply obtaining the correct grapes, so with some Ethiopian dishes such as injera, bread, ergo and butter, the local microflora and microclimate are essential to produce the "real thing". Even within Ethiopia, the fauna, flora and climate may vary enormously within a few miles so that injera eaten at one place may be very different from that in a village or town 5 miles away.
To compile an exhaustive treatise on Ethiopian cooking work take many years of
work and even them it could not be complete since much of the golden age of
cookery has been lost. Since so little is written down, the only real source of
recipes is from Ethiopians themselves and not usually from the younger
generation who often know surprisingly little about their own traditional
cuisine. Nearly all of the information in these pages was
collected in and around the capital, Addis Ababa, and in Woin Amba, Bulga a
village on the edge of the Kesem Gorge about 100 miles north of of the capital.
While I have collected information from lots of sources, I am
deeply indebted to Wz. Tsehay Atlaw and Wz. Hamere Gebre-Sadik, who have
given me an enormous
amount of help and detailed information. As a result of the way in which the
information has been
gathered it is inevitable that the final recipes have had to be modified in the
same way as successive editions of Mrs Beeton's have change to account for
the kitchen of today. Ethiopians enjoy large and extended families and it is
not unusual for dishes to be regularly cooked with the expectation that they
will have to feed 20 to 30 people. On special occasions such as weddings,
funerals and religious holidays, of which there are many, even moderately
wealthy people will entertain 50 to 100 guests or major saints days and
occasionally at large weddings and funerals over a 1000 guests will be fed and
given liquid refreshment. As a result it is often said that Ethiopia cooking is
only at its best when prepared in copious amounts in the beautiful black clay
pots that adorn the Ethiopian kitchen.
any comments or suggestions to: D.P. Humber@UEL.AC.UK
© David Humber 1996 - Last Modified: Thursday, February 29, 1996 at 7:36 PM
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