Food Is Love In Ethiopia
Travel+Leisure India|May 2019

Ethiopian cuisine celebrates the joy of eating in endearing ways. Vikas Plakkot finds himself travelling back in time on a culinary journey through the African country.

Vikas Plakkot

Perched on a low wooden stool inside a restaurant in the northern Ethiopian town of Axum, I’m enthralled by the eskista performance unravelling in front of me. It features intense shoulder movements synced with folk tunes. In the foreground, a well-dressed man digs into a large plate of food to tear offa portion of grey flatbread, rolls it in meat stew, and feeds his partner. As she gobbles it down, a smile spreads across her face. This act of feeding someone with your hands is called gursha, a way of expressing love in Ethiopia, and it’s no surprise that it features food.

In Ethiopia, eating is an art form, a communal exercise whose centrepiece is the large sourdough bread injera. The pancake lookalike is made of teff, the planet’s smallest grain, which Ethiopians have grown for eons. Spread around the large injera are a host of dishes ranging from spicy curries to leafy greens. I spy minced meat, a large chilli with kachumbari filling, a chickpea stew, and even some roasted lamb. Shunning all notions of restaurant etiquette, I shove my hands into the platter, invoking the Malayali in me. The dishes vanish in swift succession, as I call for more injera to wipe out the remaining veggies.

That’s all it takes to relish a meal in this country—a well-made injera, good company, and soiled hands.

OH SO SPICY!

On my very first afternoon in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s unassuming capital, I make my way to the 2000 Habesha Cultural Restaurant. This widely recognised outlet serves all the classic Ethiopian dishes, accompanied by sheesha, black coffee, and soulful local music.

The only dish I order is doro wat, thick and spicy chicken curry simmered in a blend of spices and cooked with Ethiopian butter. In some parts of the country, whipping up a delicious bowl of doro wat is said to be the test that every to-be bride has to undergo to win the right to marriage. The key ingredient is the berbere, a mix of spices and herbs that finds a place in many local dishes.

When the food arrives, it tugs at memory strings: the dining room of our ancestral Kerala home, where grandma’s dosa and chicken curry arrived in a similar fashion. I quickly ration out the chicken pieces between me and my partner, and mark my territory on the injera, drawing from childhood memories.

We wolf down the meal in a jiffy, pinning the ravenous appetite on our weary journey—fully aware that the food on the plate is to blame.

VEGAN LOVE

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