• JUDITH BAKER

Eat like an Ethiopian?


From a nation best known for famine and unrest, it is surprising that Ethiopian cuisine is becoming one of the world’s new must-eats. Now celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, pictured here outside his New York restaurant, is opening another Red Rooster in London's hip Shoreditch

On my first visit to Ethiopia, I found myself invited into in a tukul or traditional Ethiopian hut, the guests of a family who were eager for my group in to see their home. We were on our way to the beautiful city of Gondar – called ‘Ethiopia’s Camelot’ because of its magical castles. My guide Daniel had suggested we stop off to meet the family. Through him we were able to converse with them. The father of the family asked about our respective occupations and urged us to sample delicious home brewed coffee. This was also my first taste of inerja - ... Ethiopia’s famous bread which is the basis of almost every meal. It is spread out like a large thin pancake and food is piled on top of it. Tourists have been known to mistake it for the tablecloth. It tastes slightly bitter, but went well with the meat and spices our hosts put on it. The ‘coffee ceremony’ takes place after a meal and typifies Ethiopian hospitality. The beans are roasted, ground and brewed in front of you and when ready, the sweet dark coffee is served in tiny cups.

Thousands of miles away in a small café on the North End Road in the unfashionable part of Fulham, the coffee ceremony is being repeated. Ghion Café is one of many in London, and I’ve even spotted Ethiopian restaurants as far afield as Kansas City.

But the man who has really made Ethiopian food sexy is Marcuss Samuelsson, the celebrity chef behind the famous Red Rooster restaurant in New York’s Harlem. Last week he opened Red Rooster in London, as part of the cool new Curtian Hotel in Shoredicth.

‘I appreciate my Ethiopian roots because I see how hard people have to work there to survive, and I understand just how fortunate I am to live in this country. I am inspired by the way the people of Ethiopia lead their lives, and how everyone tries to help one another in the community. Their drive inspires me to work as hard as I can to take the knowledge I have about food and to share it with those who want to learn how to prepare fresh, affordable meals’ he said.

Dining in Ethiopia is characterized by the ritual of sharing food from a common plate, signifying the bonds of loyalty and friendship. The traditional way of eating is with fingers. "Injera" is placed on the plate with variety of dishes decoratively arranged around it. A small portion of "Injera" is torn off and wrapped around a mouthful of the selected dish.

"Injera" is a flat bread made of "Teff", a fine grain unique to Ethiopia. "Wot" is dipping sauce which maybe prepared using a variety of meats, fish, and vegetables. "Wot" is cooked with "Berbere" (Ethiopian seasoning prepared from matured red chili pepper and other exotic spices) which may range from very mild to spicy hot. "Alitcha" is more mildly spiced dipping sauce prepared with a variety of meats or vegetables.

Ethiopian dishes are prepared with a distinctive variety of unique spices:

Berbere : A popular Ethiopian seasoning prepared from red chili peppers, garlic, & other spice. Berbere is sun-dried then mixed with more spices & used in wots.

Nitir Kibe : Another Ethiopian basic, Nitir Kibe is pure clarified butter seasoned with several condiments and used in traditional cooking.

Kaey Wot : A lively sauce prepared with berbere, nitir kibe & meat, fish or vegetables

Alitcha : A delicately mild sauce made from meat, vegetables or beans with garlic, ginger and Ird.

Mitmita : A red pepper spiced with cardamom & salt, usually served with Kitfo.

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