SCHOLARS DON’T KNOW exactly when ancient Ethiopians began to prepare their unique cuisine and eat it served atop injera, a spongy sourdough flatbread, which you also use to grab the food (there’s no cutlery at an Ethiopian meal).
As I recount in my book, Mesob Across America: Ethiopian Food in the U.S.A., we know for sure that it began to emerge around the sixth century A.D., but anything before that is speculation. The people of ancient Aksum – that’s the empire that emerged before the area and the country became known as Ethiopia – left behind many traces of the foods they ate. They just didn’t leave any cookbooks.
But there’s documentation as far back as the third century A.D. of the emergence of t’ej, the wonderful Ethiopian honey wine. It was one of the world’s first meads, and it’s so popular in Ethiopia that as much as 80% of the country’s honey – which could be a valuable export crop – goes to making it.
T’ej is a wonderful drink, at once sweet and pungent from the influence of gesho, a species of buckthorn that grows native only in Ethiopia, and that Ethiopians have used to ferment and flavor their t’ej for as long as history has recorded its presence in the culture.
Believe it or not, t’ej is easy to make at home, as long as you can get gesho. But you’ll need to visit an Ethiopian market to get some, and you’ll only find those in big cities. I’ll write more about that in a future post. For now, though, if you’d like to learn more, you can visit my website All About T’ej. I’ve even created a detailed, step-by-step instructional video to teach you how to make it. You can also watch the video just below.
If you decide you want to make some t’ej at home, drop me a line and I’ll answer any questions you might have.
And when you drink your t’ej, be sure to make the Ethiopian toast, letenachin, which means “to our health.”
University of Pittsburgh
Here’s how to make t’ej, step by step.