Together at the Table

In almost every culture food is central. Food connects people, bringing them together for a time to share something that creates bonds and memories. Some of these memories related to food will last a lifetime, as Ethiopian immigrants in northern Virginia can attest to. Two commonly mentioned dishes in several interviews were injera and doro wat. Ethiopians, like many immigrants, try to maintain connections to their heritage through their foods.

Image result for injera Credit SpiceRoots

Injera is a spongy flatbread used as a utensil to eat other food. It can be found a nearly every meal and is definitely a staple to Ethiopian cuisine. Diners use the injera to pick up or scoop other food because Western utensils, such as a fork or spoon, are not used.[1] Injera is fairly easy to make which is good because it is needed at every meal. The grounded grain teff serves as the flour of the bread and it is mixed with water. Then it sits for a day or two before it is cooked in a saucepan. Although it seems somewhat similar to a pancake mix, it is much thinner and is only cooked on one side so that the other side remains spongy.[2] Keeping this spongy texture makes it easier for the consumer to soak up sauces, soup and the like.[3]

Image result for doro wat

Credit The Daring Gourmet

Doro wat, like injera, is a traditional Ethiopian dish. Although quite popular and mentioned in several interviews of Ethiopian immigrants in northern Virginia, the dish doro wat is made more for special occasions. It is a spicy stew made with chicken and other ingredients, as well as a hard-boiled egg. Ethiopian immigrant, Zion Bezu, came over to America in the 1990s when she attended college in Kansas. She continues to make traditional Ethiopian food for her family and says her children’s favorite dish is doro wat. She only makes it on special occasions because it is very time consuming, taking hours of cooking. Bezu says doro wat is a traditional New Year’s dish, but Ethiopians celebrate their Enkutatash (New Year) in mid-September.[4] Immigrating at seven years old, Afomia Wendemagegn says doro wat is a traditional dish to serve at Christmas, also known as Genna.[5] Despite the long hours to make doro wat, it is a very traditional and valued dish to share with family on holidays such as Enkutatash or Genna.

Different traditional Ethiopian dishes have several meanings to immigrants and their families and often bring back memories. It is comforting to Ethiopian and other African immigrants to find traditional foods in northern Virginia or wherever else they may settle. Whether the consumers are as old as Bezu or younger like Wendemagegn, or even a second generation like Bezu’s children, traditional food is still very important, especially with their connections to holidays or just everyday meals. Passing down these dishes to descendants is important to the Ethiopian immigrants as well, so that they know the children do not lose their heritage. Food brings generations and nationalities together.

[1]Selome Araya. “Hands Instead of Forks: Eating Ethiopian Food. Skipping Stones 25, no. 3 (May 2013): 14.

[2] Heather U. Authentic Injera (aka Ethiopian Flat Bread), accessed October 27, 2016, http://www.food.com/recipe/authentic-injera-aka-ethiopian-flat-bread-96980.

[3]Selome Araya, “Hands Instead of Forks: Eating Ethiopian Food.” Skipping Stones 25, no. 3 (May 2013): 14.

[4] Zion Bezu, interview by Krystyn Moon, Alexandria, VA, July 23, 2015.

[5] Afomia Wendemagegn, interview by Krystyn Moon, Alexandria, VA, June 24, 2015.

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