I remember when I did not like Ethiopian food and would dream of Indian food every time I would end up at an Ethiopian restaurant. Since then, much has changed in my taste buds. Now I enjoy theÂ depth of each dish that comes from the spices and cooking styles used – neither common in the American kitchen. And so, I ate my way through Ethiopia. But, beyond even the specific foods, I now appreciate how Ethiopian food is eaten.Â
Each meal is served on a large platter covered with injera, the airy, tangy local bread. The different dishes are found in piles around the platter, and everyone gathers around this common plate. Pieces of injera are broken off to scoop up sauces made of vegetables, beans, and meats. The meal becomes a negotiation between hands as each person reaches for their favorite dishes. Sometimes you pause mid-air to prevent a collision of hands searching for food, and other times you stop to offer more injera or certain dish to your neighbor. By the end, everyone has had their fill, oily hands are ready to be washed, and each person is asked if he will, â€œTake coffee or tea.â€
The most beautiful part of this is that it is a shared experience. Acquaintance or best friend, a meal like this is a unifying experience. You cannot pull your â€˜a la carteâ€™ plate to your little corner to hide behind your knife and fork. You cannot ignore your neighbor – you might be secretly thankful that his favorite sauce seems to be your least favorite sauce or be hoping he offers you the last bit of your that special sauce you happen to love. Maybe a certain sauce is particularly outstanding tonight and you want everyone to try it – no awkward passing of the plate the table – everyone just reaches across to try it for themselves.Â
And so, someday, I think I might learn to cook Ethiopian food. When I do, we can gather around one plate in my kitchen for this shared experience.