Read about Food For Thought: Ethiopian Feast




'Food For Thought: Ethiopian Feast' was held here at Centre for Stories on 29 June 2017. Our storyteller and chef for the night was Askale. The following was written by Ritika Purang, a Centre for Stories intern in 2017. 

The latest food for thought was a scrumptious traditional Ethiopian meal prepared by a wonderful woman - Askale. Askale was born and raised in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa. She’s the eldest of 8 children. She had studied at Addis Ababa Technical College for two years before she fled to Kenya-Nirobi then Kakuma refugee camp, a life changing experience that will stay with her for long time. She arrived safely in Australia in 2000. Askale replicated her mother's recipes with all the necessary Ethiopian spices. Some of the items on the menu were Doro Wat (chicken and egg stew), Ayeb (home-made cheese) and Gomen (fried kale), ending the evening with some fruit salad, injera (flat bread) and aromatic Ethiopian coffee.

Before beginning to pig out on a delicious meal, Askale shared with us some of her fondest memories about the traditional Ethiopian New Year and how the festivities began at her home country. Askale spoke about many traditions but one thing that stood out the most was love for her family. Her parents’ love, sibling love and the love between a mother and child. She spoke about her favourite part of the year, the Ethiopian New Year, which takes place every year in September. Here are a few quotes from her on the evening:

“Instead of talking about all the turmoil, I just want to talk about the joy of my family gatherings. One gathering in early spring morning in my parents’ house. We were eight kids, the helpers, the relatives and also the grand-parents, so I just want to share the joy we shared in that house.” 

“We woke up in a very joyful and happy mood, early morning at 6am and our mum was already back from church and by that time it was already crowded, almost like a busy community centre.”

“Two weeks before New Years, my dad gets the shopping list and mostly in Africa, men earn the money, bring it home and give it to their wives and the wives then go to the markets and do grocery shopping for the family but in our house it is vice versa because my father owns the trucks so it was easier for him to bring it from the country side and we just give the list to him. Whatever we want we give him the list, he is never tired, we are never tired…”

“My father would bring everything on the list, honey, butter and anything else and hand it over to the queen [my mother] and the queen and us [all the children] because that is during our school holidays so we help our mum and she teaches us how to cook and we can’t muck around with her [laughs].”

“The chicken requires lots of skill and knowledge. At first I refused to learn but there is no escape! We have to learn how to take the feathers out of the skin and the meat out of the skin. There has to be 12 pieces cut very accurately, no piece should be bigger or smaller and that takes lots of skill and precision. So that is what our mother would teach us and once she was satisfied that we picked up this skill, she would let us go…”

“We woke up early September morning on New Year, as soon as we opened our eyes, we just jumped to find our new clothes and our new outfits and there is always drama [laughs], some one’s fits well, someone’s doesn’t…”

“The coffee ceremony is the only time my mother finally gets to sit down and she just looks at us [her eight children] and she admires us, how beautifully we have grown up, and how much she loves us and she goes on and on…”

“So before the coffee ceremony starts, dad walks in the room and brings the perfume and hands it to her and says “happy new year!”, and she just looks at the box as if she's never seen anything like it and before she opens it, she smells it and says “mmmm that is beautiful”, and she didn't even open it! And us children keep persisting ‘open it’ and finally she opens it and sprays herself head to toe and my dad gets the first blessing, sometimes she comes and taps his backs and blesses him, and then it is our turn, because I am the first child, she puts perfume on me first and then blesses me…”

“She puts the perfume so many times and she never stops admiring it and my dad always says ‘of course I ordered it specially for you from Saudi Arabia’ and then dad tells mom ‘don’t finish the perfume so fast, I worked hard to get it for you’ and mum replies ‘I don’t care!’ [laughs]

“Lunch is a completely different meal and poor mum, she never has time to sit with us and eat, she is always bringing out various dishes, one time the chicken, one time the lamb and other things so she is always just running in and out of the kitchen bringing us all these delicious meals and we just keep eating.”

“And finally when mum sits down to eat lunch, all eight of us keep feeding her something or the other because she is the Queen dressed so beautifully in her new outfit. Once she has eaten, the lunch is over and the lunch time coffee ceremony continues…that is my New Year’s feast and the most joyful memories of my childhood.”

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Copyright © 2017 Askale Abebe

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories