What’s For (Ethiopian) Dessert?

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YOU’VE JUST ENJOYED a generous Ethiopian meal, and yet, you still have room for dessert. But not just any dessert: Naturally, you want an Ethiopian dessert. So you ask for the menu and you see your choices: ice cream, baklava, cheesecake, Napoleon, flourless chocolate espresso torte, honey gelato, and of course, the very Ethiopian – tiramisu (or “teramusso” at one place in Washington, D.C.).

So where are the Ethiopian desserts? Nothing that comes from the homeland? Yes, that’s right: Ethiopia is the land of many things, but dessert simply isn’t one of them.

Injera bread pudding at Ras Dashen in Chicago

Injera bread pudding at Ras Dashen in Chicago

“By it’s nature,” an Ethiopian friend told me, “our culture doesn’t have desserts.” So sweets after a meal at an Ethiopian home might be cakes and pastries influenced by Italian cuisine, or even more likely, a trip to a bakery or café – of which there are many in Addis Ababa and other cities – where friends will gather for coffee and talk.

There’s no exact word in Amharic that means “dessert,” so the easiest word to use is tafach, which means “sweets.” Matatamiya comes from a word that means “to make balanced” or “to make tasty,” although in context, it could also indicate an appetizer; and the more literal takatay megeb means “meal follower,” or actually, “follower meal” in Amharic word order – or for a more figurative meaning, “palate cleanser.”

Amharic dictionaries variably use matatamiya, tafach or takatay megeb to translate “dessert.” But some feel the need to explain: “Kewana megeb behwula yemikerb tafach megeb,” offers one loquacious dictionary as its first translation of “dessert.” This phrase means, “After the main meal, [you are] served a sweet meal.” This dictionary’s second word for dessert is simply takatay megeb. Matatamiya is something of a new addition to the language, a European concept that’s come into Ethiopian culture. After a spicy Ethiopian meal, a better accompaniment is a sweet honey wine, like t’ej, or some t’alla, the grainy traditional Ethiopian beer.

Destaya at Ethiopian Diamond in Chicago

Destaya at Ethiopian Diamond in Chicago

This lacuna on the Ethiopian table may be because sugar is largely a 20th Century addition to the culture, says Araya Selassie Yibrehu, a pioneering New York restaurateur and t’ej maker. Once sugar caught on, pastry shops of various nationalities – Italian, Greek, Arabic – began to speckle the landscape of cities and towns, especially in Addis Ababa. Sugar has even found its way into Ethiopia’s honey wine, allowing some t’ej makers to sweeten their brew without using quite as much expensive Ethiopian honey. Purists like Araya would never taint their t’ej this way.

Menkir Tamrat, a connoisseur of his native cuisine, says that the “widespread use of refined sugar in Ethiopia didn’t happen until the ’60s with the establishment of Wenji and Metehara sugar processing plants. But I don’t think this means Ethiopians were sugar deficient. It just didn’t come in the form of dessert. Ethiopians got their sugar fix from sucking on some sugar cane or tinkish (part of the sorghum family with a sweet stem), and probably from some fresh fruits as well. Birz [honey water] was also another source of sugar fix, especially for young kids.”

But there’s another issue at the heart of the Ethiopian dessert dilemma.

An ad for a pastry shop  in Addis Ababa

An ad for a pastry shop
in Addis Ababa

“A formal meal does not necessarily have to follow the three course approach as in Western cuisine,” Menkir tells me. At the Ethiopian table, “as the cuisine evolved, the standard for an excellent meal was formed as having some kind of wot, alicha and some t’ibs when not fasting – no dessert. Elaborate plant-based dishes are served during t’som [fasting] time instead of the meat/dairy routine.”

So Ethiopians have simply never evolved a tradition of after-dinner sweets, which can even ruin the pleasure of the food you’ve just eaten.

“The sweetness in desserts takes away the lingering warm feeling that normally remains in one’s mouth after eating a traditional Abesha [Ethiopian] meal,” Menkir says. “I understand some cuisines mix heat and sweet, but that would be a no-no in Ethiopian cuisine. My taste buds won’t allow me to eat something sweet after an Abesha meal – I don’t know why. The implied cultural whisper has always been that spicy/hot dishes [wots] are the stars of the cuisine, whereas alitcha [non-spicy] dishes are for virgins, wimps or people on medication. I suspect the concept of dessert falls in the later category at best. If dessert was meant to be part of Ethiopian cuisine, we would have had an Amharic word for it.”

Still, the long-time American doesn’t always eat Ethiopian food, which creates a dilemma for him: “One down side to having an Abesha taste bud,” Menkir adds, “is forgetting to leave space for dessert when having a Western meal.”

A pasti bet in Addis

A pasti bet in Addis

One sweet treat enjoyed by Ethiopians is pasti, a pastry made of fried dough that looks a bit like a contorted donut without a hole, sometimes sprinkled with powdered sugar. It’s Italian in origin, but it’s become a part of Ethiopia’s dessert-less indigenous culture. It’s often sold at a pasti bet (house), and you’ll especially find such shops near schools (including colleges) because young people love the treat, so much so that an Ethiopian R&B artist wrote a song about the dessert and featured an Addis Ababa pasti bet in the video.

There’s also the chornaki, another deep-fried, lightly sweetened pasty, crispy hard on the outside, chewy soft in the middle, and about the size of a baseball. So far no one has sung about it. But Menkir remembers eating them when he grew up in Ethiopia. A local market sold them using the name biskut, and “some days, if you missed cafeteria food,” Menkir recalls, “you would get one or two of these things and a hard boiled egg, crack the biskut open, remove some of the soft dough in the center and stuff the egg in. I think we even sprinkled some mitmita on the egg. But I don’t remember it being sweet. There could be sweet and savory variations.”

I found a sweet treat in Hirut Campbell’s cookbook, Traditional Ethiopian Cuisine, that I’ve come to enjoy. It’s made with shembra – that is, chick peas – and she calls it shembra nefro, which means “boiled chickpeas.” But the chick peas are roasted, not boiled, so shembra kolo is a better name for it. Just plain kolo is roasted barley, a very popular crunchy (but not sweet) Ethiopian snack, and the name comes from the verb kola (or qola), which means “to roast.”

Shembra kolo is very easy to make. Begin with a can of chick peas – I use a no-salt-added variety – and drain the liquid from the can. Mix an egg white with one tablespoon of water, and toss the chick peas in the liquid to coat them. Roll the moist chick peas in a bowl containing a quarter cup of sugar and two teaspoons of cinnamon (or more if you like, to taste). Finally, put some aluminum foil on a roasting pan, apply a little no-stick spray, and roast the sugar-coated shembra in a 375-degree oven, turning them every 15 minutes. After about 45 minutes, they should be ready: crunchy and coated with dark caramelized sugar. Cool them, refrigerate them, and munch them cold. But be careful: They’re addictive!

Ras Dashen, an Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago, serves an injera bread pudding created by its proprietress/chef, Zenash Beyene. You won’t find it in Ethiopia, but it’s certainly a dessert based on something uniquely Ethiopian. A few blocks up the street, Chicago’s Ethiopian Diamond served a chocolate injera crêpe cake for a special event in 2010. Diamond’s regular dessert menu offers destaya, an Amharic word translated as “my happiness.” It’s a treat made of “thin dough shells stuffed with dried red and white raisins, pistachios, split almonds, shredded coconut and cardamom powder.”

Chornaki

Chornaki

But just because there aren’t Ethiopian desserts doesn’t mean there aren’t Ethiopian pastry chefs. In big cities across the country, you’ll occasionally find a bakery or pastry shop owned by an Ethiopian.

The dean of this rare type of Ethiopian chef is Almaz Dama, who has co-owned Dama in Arlington, Va., with her family for many years. It’s four places in one: a restaurant, banquet hall, catering business and bakery, with Almaz serving as its top chef. Most of the pastries are Western-style, but Almaz does makes a tall, moist, creamy, fruity teff cake that brightens any table lucky enough to host it.

Almaz earned a diploma at the Bethesda, Md., campus of the French L’Academie de Cuisine, where her teacher was Roland Mesnier, who served as a White House pastry chef for 25 years. And while most of her baked goods lean toward the continental, she does offer a few Ethiopian-tinged desserts.

Almaz came to America at age 19, earned a degree in nutrition at Howard University, and opened a restaurant called Dama on North Capital Street in Washington in 1983 with her sister. Business wasn’t so great, and that enterprise closed four years later. She spent the next decade cooking at other places and learning other chefs’ secrets. Then, in 1999, she opened the new Dama with her relatives – two sisters, a brother, and a cousin – and between them they now manage the side-by-side quartet, as well as a Silver Spring, Md., restaurant called Bete that sells Almaz’s baked goods in a café alongside a small restaurant.

Pastry chef Almaz Dama

Pastry chef
Almaz Dama

In her work as a pastry chef, Almaz distinguishes between European-influenced “cake” and Ethiopian “pastry.” Because Ethiopians don’t have a cultural tradition of sweet baked goods, her bakery’s homeland treats are often fried and not always sweet.

For example, there’s sambussa, a triangular fried shell of dough stuffed with spicy lentils or beef, served at many restaurants as an appetizer. One of Almaz’s Italian-influenced treats is a bombolino, which she refers to as an “Ethiopian doughnut.” It’s dark brown and deep-fried, chewy in the middle and peppered with effervescent cumin seeds, denser than an American doughnut, and prepared with much less sugar.

Almaz’s original creation is a tall round cake made of teff and other flours. She uses a blend because teff has no gluten, and the cake “needs something to hold it together.” It’s light brown inside, just like teff, with thin layers of pastry cream throughout, and with chunks of glazed peaches, strawberries and kiwi on top.
It’s delicious, and not too sweet. Almaz has altered her recipes over the years to cut down on the sugar because her Ethiopian customers have suggested it. She also uses less cream in her cakes and cookies than an American baker would use, another concession to her clients.

Pastry chef Kidist Assafa

Pastry chef Kidist Assefa

Not far away, in Falls Church, Va., you’ll find the young Ethiopian pastry chef Kidist Assefa and her Flavor Cake and Pastry, a unique feature at the wonderful Skyline Plaza, a strip mall lined with Ethiopian restaurants and businesses.

Flavor is the only bakery on the strip, and Kidist has a degree from Baltimore’s International Culinary College. She came to America just after high school, about 18 years ago, and her café offers a variety of pastries and coffees.

But Kidist doesn’t make any uniquely Ethiopian pastries – at least, not yet. “The consistency of the pastries are different when you make them with teff,” she says. “But I have a plan to make something yummy.” She would say no more.

And then there’s Giordana, an Ethiopian-American chef who host Giordana’s Kitchen Show on EBS, which broadcasts Amharic-language programs from its office in Silver Spring, Md. She’s produced about half a dozen videos that air on EBS and the internet, and in one of them, she bakes a cake.

In 2011, Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant in Montclair, N.J., introduced a line of non-dairy chocolates in four flavors, two of them Ethiopian-inspired: berbere, guava-ginger, raspberry-rosewater, and t’ej. I can’t say what a berbere-hot piece of chocolate might taste like, but I suspect a piece with a touch of t’ej would be delicious. The restaurant’s other desserts include crème brûlée, almond cake with berry sauce, and “halewa sesame paste with pistachios.”

Abay in Pittsburgh varies its dessert specials, and sometimes it serves a pumpkin-filled sambussa, the doughy fried triangular dish often filled with lentils and served as an appetizer at Ethiopian restaurants. And at Uchenna in Colorado Spring, Colo., there’s baklava, strudel (apple, blueberry or strawberry), French chocolate cake, and two variations of baklava: cataif (“almonds and honey wrapped in shredded wheat”), and saragli (“pistachios, almonds and honey in a filo pastry, drizzled with chocolate”).

Of course, if you’re making an Ethiopian meal, and you want an “Ethiopian” dessert, you can always improvise, just as Zenash does at Ras Dashen with her injera bread pudding. My friend Wilhelmine Stordiau, who makes Begena Tedj in Frankfurt, Germany, and who was born and raised in Ethiopia, makes a sweet treat that uses injera as a sort of crêpe.

"Modern Cake and Bread Recipes"

“Modern Cake and Bread Recipes”

Like all good Ethiopian cooks, Wilma doesn’t have set proportions. She just lets her eye and her instinct tell her how much of everything to use. So here’s how to make it, although you may have to improvise a little:

Take a piece of ginger, about an inch or so long, and peel it, then put it into a food processor with half a cup of water. When it’s processed, strain the water and set it aside. Then, in a pan, cook a little bit of sugar and some fresh orange juice until the sugar melts, then add the ginger water and let it cook until it forms a syrup. Finally, add a little bit of honey – and, if you like, a touch of t’ej. When it’s ready, take an injera and use it like a crêpe, smearing it with the syrup and rolling it up. Cut it in the middle, decorate with orange slices, and (Wilma recommends) “serve with a little bit of crème Chantilly.”

Finally, you can always turn to an Ethiopian cookbook, although the desserts won’t be Ethiopian. Some cookbooks in Amharic have recipes for Western desserts – under sections headings like “Cake,” “Cookies,” “Pudding,” “Tarts” – and I know of at least one cookbook, called Modern Cake and Bread Preparation, that’s filled with dessert recipes. But it’s in Amharic, so your best bet for dessert after an Ethiopian meal might be a nice slice of tiramisu, or a little injera dipped in Ethiopian honey.

Of course, the most authentic Ethiopian dessert is no dessert at all, and Ethiopians will usually tell you that their cuisine is so delectable that you simply don’t need one.

“There’s an old tale about a man who was treated to an excellent meal of doro wot,” Menkir recalls. “After finishing his meal, he politely declined to wash his hands. When asked by his hosts why he would do such a thing, his response was: Why wash away so quickly such intoxicating flavors when I can just take a whiff of my fingers the rest of the day and remember this great meal.”

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh

Visit Almaz Dama at her bakery and restaurant.

 

Ethiopian-American TV host Giordana shows how to bake a cake.

 

Setting the Ethiopian Table

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EVERYONE KNOWS that you use nature’s cutlery to enjoy an Ethiopian meal – with a little help from the injera, of course. But don’t take the absence of forks and spoons to mean that the Ethiopian table is bare. There are plenty of other familiar culinary items in the Ethiopian home.

Here’s a look at some of the traditional items that an Ethiopian host or hostess uses to prepare and present your meal. There are also, of course, plenty of pots and pans, all with names in Amharic and the other languages of Ethiopia. But I’ll mostly round up the things that might not look like something you’d find in non-Ethiopian homes.

Mesobs can come in a variety of sizes and colors

Mesobs can come in a variety of sizes and colors

Mesob. In modern urban Ethiopian homes, families eat around a dinner table. In the most traditional tribal area, people sit on the ground to eat. But there’s something in between modernity and subsistence: the mesob, a woven round wicker basket that can sit as high as three or four feet tall. It has a lid, and when you remove it, there’s a place in the center for a tray of food. Each diner sits on a small stool, about eight inches high, called a barchuma, and everyone then eats from the common tray of food.

Large mesobs play the role of dinner table in a more traditional Ethiopian home. But mesobs come in many sizes, and the smaller ones may be decorative, or they can be good places to store household items. The smallest ones, called a mudai, can sit on a tabletop, and they make an excellent place to keep jewelry or nicknacks. Needless to say, the more colorful the mesob, the more craft that went into making it. The largest ones can take several months to make.

Some Ethiopian restaurants in America will have a few mesobs for people who want to dine in a more traditional way, although they’ll often be surrounded by more conventional chairs rather than low-to-the-ground barchumas, which can be rather uncomfortable by Western standards. Still, if you want a barchuma for your home that combines function with a more contemporary elegance, check out the ones made by Jomo Design Furniture, a company in Alexandria, Va., owned by a man born in Kenya to Ethiopian parents. Or you can learn more about the mesob and other Ethiopian crafts by reading Jacques Dubois’ short book Roots and Flowerings of Ethiopia’s Traditional Crafts. The basketry of Ethiopia’s Harari region in considered to be especially elegant and beautiful.

Gebeta. The Ethiopian meal comes to you served on a large round tray called a gebeta that’s topped with a piece of injera onto which your host places small portions of the many dishes you’ll enjoy at your meal. The gebeta then rests in the center of the mesob, or in a more modern home or restaurant, on an everyday dining room table. If you’re eating in someone’s home and you run out of a dish, you’ll probably be offered more – or your host will simply serve you more. In fact, if you keep cleaning your gebeta, your meal may never end. So it’s considered to be polite to leave a bit of food on the table to indicate that you’re finally full.

But customs are changing in Ethiopia – in fact, they have been for a while. In his 1965 book Wax & Gold, the eminent Ethiopian scholar Donald Levine surveyed 700 Ethiopians about their views on native customs compared to foreign ones.

Levine found that college-educated Ethiopians, who make up less than one percent of the population even today, were more likely to prefer “European” or “foreign” ways of doing things, which he defined as any variation of the Ethiopian custom of eating with your hands from a shared plate in the middle of the table. Although 80 percent of Levine’s respondents preferred Ethiopian food to non-Ethiopian dishes, 58 percent preferred to have individual plates in front of them rather than eating from a communal gebeta in the centuries-old Ethiopian way. I have numerous Ethiopian-American friends who confirm this today: Whereas the elders prefer a gebeta, their children prefer their own plates.

Emperor Menelik II's Berele

Emperor Menelik II’s Berele

The word gebeta can have a variety of meanings in Amharic. The dictionary defines it as a large wooden cup or bowl, a basin for washing the hands, or a large wooden table. Gebet’a – spelled with a different Amharic “t” letter at the end – is also the name for an ancient Ethiopian game played on a rectangular wooden game board with 14 or more cupped indentations in two rows, and with a “home” for each player at the two ends. The cups have stones in them, and the object is to follow the rules and get as many stones in your “home” as you can. It’s played in many African cultures and goes by different names in the many African languages: mancala is a common name for it as well, and you can play the game online under the ancient Ethiopian name awari, or download a version of mancala. It’s fun to play after an Ethiopian meal.

Berele. This is one of the more simple, charming and elegant items of the Ethiopian table. It’s a vessel used for drinking t’ej, the Ethiopian honey wine, and its functional design helps solve a problem: How to keep Ethiopia’s myriad insects out of your sweet potable. The berele has a wide bottom, like a Florence flask, and a long neck with a small opening at the top. It’s easy to hold in the palm of your hand, and even the most petite thumb fits neatly over the opening. This keeps the insect out.

Ethiopians will sit for hours in a t’ej bet, drinking and engaging in conversation, which of course grows more convivial as the day or night goes on. If there’s music, someone will eventually dance with a berele full of t’ej on his head. Needless to say, he won’t spill a drop.

Wancha

Wancha

Visitors to Ethiopia began observing and writing about the berele in the 18th Century, but explorers before that don’t mention it, so it might be a more recent development. Ancient Ethiopians drank their wine from animal horns. Still, in 1942, the archaeologist A.J. Arkell studied four sites in the Eritrean city of Agordat, an ancient town proximate to Aksum, the first-millennium A.D. civilization that laid the foundation for modern Ethiopia. Arkell describes what he calls “large beer-pots with narrowed necks and out-turned rims.” This shape perfectly describes a berele, although Arkell’s vessels were clearly much larger. Arkell doesn’t explicitly date them, but he says they’re “probably contemporary with the New Kingdom in Egypt,” which places them around 1550-1050 B.C.

Wancha. This rustic item is a cup carved from the horn of a cow. It has a wide mouth at the top and narrows as it goes down to the bottom. Some wancha rest on a base and have finer carvings where the bottom of the cup meets the base. They can be very small (one ounce) or a little larger (six ounces), and they usually have a smokey aroma.

Making injera on a mitad in Ethiopia

Making injera on a mitad in Ethiopia

Mitad/mogogo. The Ethiopian home may have no more essential piece of cookware than this ancient injera-making device. The mitad has a large round flat heated surface onto which the cook pours the fermented injera batter. The bread cooks for a few minutes, and when it’s bubbly on top, it’s ready to place on a gebeta or to use on the side to grab food from your plate. The word mitad is Amharic, and in Tigrinya it’s a mogogo.

In traditional Ethiopia, a mitad is made of clay and heated over a wooden stove or fireplace. Modern ones are now electric, and Zekarias Tesfagaber, an Eritrean-American inventor living in Seattle, has invented a mogogo that he sells through his company’s website. Ethiopians in America also use the Lefse Heritage Grill as a mitad. The grills are sold in many Ethiopian markets around the country and also online at Target.

With care, your modern mitad will last a long time. But in Ethiopia, traditional clay mitads are prone to breakage. So in 2009, a group of graduate students from Stanford University went to Ethiopia and invented the Mighty Mitad, a steel band that wraps around the perimeter of a mitad and makes it almost impossible to break or shatter, as you can see in this video that the inventors made. Now sold in Ethiopia by an Ethiopian company, the Mighty Mitad costs the equivalent of about $3 to $4, less then the cost of a new mitad, and it’s been a great help to the families that have one.

Agelgel (left), chocho

Agelgel (left), chocho

The mitad has several items that go along with it. Its cover is called an akimbalo, and when the injera has fully baked, you get it off the mitad with a sefed, a large round piece of wicker that slides under the injera. Then, you can fold and cool the injera in your agelgel, except of course for the pieces you place on top of the gebeta and serve in your mesob.

Agelgel. This is the Ethiopian lunch basket: a round devise of thick sturdy leather, with a detachable lid held tight by a series of leather straps. You can sling it over your shoulder using its long leather strap, and inside, you carry injera or other foods. You can also use it at your dinner table as a way to serve your injera. Some are wider and flatter, some taller and rounder, and some have lids decorated with furry hides. They’re very commonly for sale all over the internet.

Chocho. This handy item is what you could call an Ethiopian milk jar: round on the bottom, with a narrower neck, it’s used to transport and pour beverages. They can be made of clay, or basketry often decorated with leather and cowry shells. If you’d like to own one, just go to Ebay, where they’re often for sale.

Ye’qand mankia. Just when you thought Ethiopians didn’t use cutlery, along comes the ye’qand mankia, which literally means a spoon (mankia) carved out of a cow’s horn (qand). The Gurage people use this long-handled tool to eat kitfo, the wildly popular dish made of seasoned raw ground meat that’s spread from the Gurages through all of Ethiopian culture. You can eat kitfo with injera and your hands, but you can also use a ye’qand mankia to scoop up the meat – which you can order lebleb (lightly cooked) or yebesele (fully cooked) if you don’t want to eat it raw.

Jebena and sini

Jebena and sini

Jebena. Legend has it that an ancient Ethiopian named Kaldi discovered coffee in the Ninth Century when he noticed his goat jumping around energetically after eating the berries of an unusual plant. Coffee in central to an Ethiopian meal, and the coffee ceremony is a cherished ritual.

The jebena is the piece of clay pottery used for making and serving coffee. It has a big round bottom with a pouring spout, a long narrow neck, and a handle for pouring. Inside the neck, there’s a strainer to keep the coffee grounds from escaping when you pour. At the table, your jebena sits on a small wicker mat called a matot, and to grind the coffee beans before boiling them, you use a mukecha and zenzena, the Ethiopian mortar and pestle.

Sini. Forget the big clumsy mug scrawled with “Jaaaaava!” from one end to the other. When you enjoy coffee in Ethiopia, you drink it from a sini, a delicate cup that fits nicely in the palm of your hand. It may not hold much coffee, but then, it doesn’t need to: Ethiopian coffee is very rich, and at a traditional ceremony, you must enjoy three cups: the abol (“first”), the hulategna (“second”) and the bereke (“to bless”).

Rekebot. This is a low table that’s used to bring the many sini to the table when it’s time to serve the coffee. A more contemporary rekebot might have drawers in the bottom to store your sini and other items. A Canadian company, Zeinco, makes a modern-styled rekebot. They call it a Bunn Table, from buna, the Amharic word for coffee. The spelling of this item can vary, but rekebot seems to be the most common one out there.

A biret mitad (Amharic) or menkeshkesh (Tigrinya)

A biret mitad (Amharic) or menkeshkesh (Tigrinya)

Biret mitad. Before you can make your coffee, you have to roast the beans. This is done with a biret mitad, a large round metal wok-like item that you place over a flaming hot hearth to do the job. Simply put the beans into the griddle and hold them over a flame, tossing the beans around to heat them evenly. Then, crush the roasted beans with your mukecha and zenzena, put them into the jebena, and once it’s brewed, pour the finished coffee into the sini and serve on the rekebot. You can also use the biret mitad to cook food over the flame – for example, biret mitad tibs, or chunks of beef tossed with onions and peppers.

By the way, biret mitad in the Amharic version of the device to roast coffee, and menkeshkesh is the name in Tigrinya for a similar device. Niat Products of Seattle, Wash., sells items like the menkeshkesh and an electric mogogo, using the Tigrinya names because Zekarias, their designer and the company’s owner, is from Eritrea. A menkeshkesh looks somewhat different: It has a long handle with a small cup at the end of it for the beans, which you then roast over the flame (see photo above).

Itan. If the aroma of the meal isn’t enough to stimulate your senses, you can burn some itan, the Ethiopian incense. You do this by stoking some hot coals in a clay holder called a girgira and then placing the itan on the coals.

So now, at last, it’s time to eat. Plop yourself down in a nice hard barchuma and belly up to the mesobinjera in one hand (always the right one), and your berele of t’ej in the other.

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh

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