Brown Condor: What you never knew about Ethiopian food
17 Jan 2012 12:32 AM
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When I first met my now-wife, and we had dinner in Addis Abeba, she shoved a big glob of food in my mouth. Initially, I thought this was rather forward – until I noticed the entire restaurant filled with people selflessly sharing food with one another. These gestures are known as “gursha”. Now that I’ve become spoiled (yes, spoiled rotten) and completely forgotten how to feed myself – I’m always struck by the similarities between gursha and music….they require nothing more than you to sit back and enjoy!
Check out how the Simpsons discover Ethiopian food, then read below as the super-prolific Teddy Fikre takes you on a journey into the world of Ethiopian food and the true significance of a gursha!
OK, as you read this article, close your eyes and imagine—oh right, you can’t close your eyes and read—well pretend like you closed your eyes for a minute. Imagine your closed eyes and then all the sudden you hear the soft music of Ethiopian songstress Kuku Sebsebe in the background. Imagine a room fool of energetic folk, and you and your four friends sitting around a mesob (basket). Imagine etan (incense) tickling your nostrils. Imagine having a great time with great friends, as your stomach waits to be filled by some Ethiopian megeb (cuisine).
So let’s continue setting the scene.
The waitress comes and bows her head to show deference. She is dressed in Habesha kemis (Ethiopian clothes) and her smile transplants you literally back to Addis Abeba. Imagine she speaks in a heavy accent, pronouncing the word “the” like "zee". Now she hands you and your four friends a menu and makes a suggestion to go with the Special kitfo (a raw steak tartare dish). You and your four friends then begin to debate about what to order as if you were participants in the GOP debates (hopefully one of you is not Herman Cain). Finally, you reach a consensus - you and your friends decide to go with Kitfo, doro wot (chicken stew), gomen (collard greens) and timatim fitfit (tomato diced and mixed with injera). The decision is made - you and your four friends order some St. Geogis beer and wait for your food to emerge from the kitchen.
So now that you placed the order, you begin waiting for the food, almost salivating with every minute that passes. The clock ticks minute by minute – and each minute that passes your stomach growls as if it was a grizzly bear in Sara Palin’s Alaska.
Finally, the waitress in the Habesha kemis emerges from the kitchen – but unfortunately it’s not your food that she’s carrying. You’ve been tricked one too many times, and now you’re learning not to jump at the food for fear of looking foolish. No, can it be? YES! The waitress—Tigist (a fitting name indeed)—finally brings the megeb to your mesob. She lays out the huge plate inside the mesob, she slowly scoops out the kitfo in the center, she then delicately places the doro wot on each side of the plate. Finally, she arranges the gomen and the timatim fitfit next to the scoops of the kitfo. Heaven! After 30 minutes of heavy anticipation, you’re finally allowed to take the first scoop of injera and begin stuffing your face with that delectable megeb!
Wait though, sineresat (manners). This is not a time to go for self first. You see, the great thing about eating Ethiopian megeb is the fact that megeb is a communal ritual. Eating injera is about ensuring that your friends eat first, and by each one ensuring that about the other, there is born a moment of interconnectedness. So you don’t go for the first bite, trust me this ain’t a Navy mess hall. No, instead you offer to break the injera for your friends first. You see, Ethiopian food is meant to be a shared memory, the meal is really a symphony of friendship. You think about yourself last, you think about your friends first. The only thing that comes close to this experience is the unselfishness of a mother cheetah letting her cubs eat before she partakes in the eating.
So what do you do? You break a piece of injera, then you scoop some kitfo, along with some doro wot, then the gomen and timatim fitfit, you form a gursha (a mouthful) and you extend the gursha to—nope not you, you extend it to the friend next to you. Even though your stomach is paging and your mouth is dry like the Sahara, unselfishly you decide to feed your friend first. So there you have it, a gursha the size of a lion’s paw, you stuff that gursha in your friend’s mouth as she begs you that it’s too big ebakeh (please). Grudgingly she takes the gursha and you are satisfied that her cheeks look like a Chinese panda. She furls her eyebrows in a credulous look but really the megeb that she is tasting is setting her taste buds on level 10 satisfaction.
This is the essence of gursha, a friend feeding a friend before feeding himself. The ritual of eating Ethiopian food is never about the food, it is about forming a bond with friends and strangers alike. The mesob is nothing more than a platform for forming bonds and connecting closer with your fellow mankind. Imagine this scene, imagine this moment, when a gursha transplants you back to Ethiopia and takes you back to a time when food was more than a 10 piece McDonald’s nugget meal. This is Gursha—this is Ethiopia--welcome home, now gursha enebla (eat).
This article is written by Teddy Fikre, Founder of Brown Condor Productions, a company committed to exposing the world to Ethiopian culture and customs. To find out more, visit www.browncondor.com
Man, I am blessed to have friends like Diallo and countless others who stand in my corner. They are my co-captains, the fiercest wing men that Brown Condor could ever want. With them, we will fly to unimaginable heights and the only limit to our audacity will be the gravity of our minds. Salute Diallo, for believing in HEBRET and teaching other Ethiopians the way to succeed the 21st century is not to look for potential adversaries, but to see each person you meet as potential partners. I am in awe of you and your music, you are mixing a symphony that will lift up the chins of my future children and teaching them the beauty of Ethiopia...one DOPE not at a time. Now...enebla...
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