Ethiopian Restaurants and Food

Injera Photo courtesy of Flickr, All Creative Commons, Contributor LillyKnit

Ethnic identities often manifest themselves through immigrant businesses, particularly in restaurants where food plays a vital social and cultural role. Food is a form of cultural expression lending to communal gathering, offering opportunities of validation and camaraderie. Additionally, Ethiopian food provides a desired connection to home, while allowing for a way to keep culture relevant to the second-generation. Food is central to the Ethiopian ethos in terms of hospitality, celebration of holidays, and cultural preservation. It is a complex culinary art that is centuries old, handed down like family heirlooms.[1] Principles concerning the treatment of guests dictate that anyone who enters the home is invited to sit and eat, which often consists of cultural mainstays like Injera and special occasion foods like Doro Wat.

Doro Wat Photo courtesy of Flickr, All Creative Commons, Contributor Andrew Huff

Injera is a thin and spongy pancake-like bread, made from teff flour, water, and a starter called ersho, which is a portion taken from previously fermented bread.[2] Another food important to the Ethiopian ethos is doro wat, which is a rich stew made of chicken and boiled eggs, prepared traditionally for Christmas and Easter. It is a dish that takes almost eight hours when prepared correctly and involves cutting up a full chicken into twelve pieces, caramelizing onions, and adding the berbere spice. Berbere spice is a mixture of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain (like celery seed), nigella (called black cumin), and fenugreek (similar to clover). These are the key ingredients in Ethiopian cuisine.

            An oral history conducted by the Office of Historic Alexandria, in Virginia, interviewed Rhoda Worku, who explained the traditional value of Doro Wat, along with the amount of time and care it takes to make the dish. Worku, who was born in Ethiopia, was the first in her family to migrate to the US. She arrived on a tourist visa and later sought political asylum.[3] She discussed that the “American Dream” for her meant starting with nothing and working hard to achieve home ownership and owning the Caboose Cafe in Alexandria, Virginia.[4] Most importantly, she explained how bringing her family to the US meant everything to her.[5]

Caboose Cafe, Alexandria, Virginia, Photo courtesy of EXTRAORDINARY Alexandria

Rhoda Worku, owner of Caboose Cafe quite beautifully discusses that the “American Dream” for her is defined as starting with nothing and working hard to achieve home ownership and owning a small business, a restaurant, Caboose Café, in Alexandria, Virginia.



[1] Jemal Mohammed, et al., “Revisit to Ethiopian Traditional Barley-Based Food,” Journal of Ethnic Foods 3, no. 2 (June 2016): 135-41.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Rhoda Worku, Interview by Krystyn Moon, May 20, 2015, Transcript, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present and Future, City of Alexandria, Office of Historic Alexandria, Virginia, 5.
[4] Ibid., 7.
[5] Ibid.