Chit-chat Sunday- Eating in Baltimore

Habesha Food

First year in college, I meet one of my best friends who is of Ethiopian origins. One of the many experiences she will share with me is Ethiopian cuisine. Although I consider myself quite adventurous with food, I still had my reservation the first time. The 'Injera' had a strange texture and I couldn't get my taste buds to agree with it. But my  mistake was trying to eat the Injera by itself, it's more of an acquired taste kinda thing. Fast forward years later, after countless visits with her family and we did end up sharing a house through school, I have been hooked. They have something for everyone; vegetarians or 'meataterians' like myself. I even tried raw meat!, an Ethiopian delicacy (keyword been tried, don't do it... or do and tell me about it). Be warned though, this food is so good it will put you in a food coma. There are many Ethiopian eateries in the DC, Silver Spring and Baltimore areas, I'll be glade to recommend a few if you're in the area and feel adventurous. These amazing pictures are from my visit to Dukem in Baltimore on 1100 Maryland Ave. They have really good portions and the food is well priced. Try some Sambusa for appetizers and Ethiopian coffee or fresh juice with your meal.
Ethiopian dining is unique in many respects; there are few cultures that share similar methods of preparation and consumption when it comes to food. 
Most Ethiopian food is served alongside injera, the staple food of the country. Injera is a flat, soft, and spongy bread. It can be made with different types of grains and therefore comes in a few different flavors and colors. Generally, it has a tangy, almost sour taste, but the flavor is not overpowering at all. Usually, a few different wots will be served with injera. The wot is the traditional dish of Ethiopia and are mixtures of vegetables, meats, spices and sauces. Usually, wots are spicy, but there is an extraordinary variety including non-spicy options. Wots are served on top of injera - the bread will be rolled out into a sheet with the wots placed directly on it; the injera acts simultaneously as a plate and a utensil.
Most traditional Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands; this is done by tearing off a piece of injera, using it to grab some food, and putting it directly in your mouth. For those new to this, it can feel awkward at first, but most people end up having fun with it. Foreigners are rarely familiar with Ethiopian etiquette, so here are a few things you should know beforehand: 
  1. Traditional meals are eaten from a communal plate, but you should not reach all the way across to the other side to grab food; eat what is close to you.
  2. It is polite to eat with your right hand - the left is considered unclean and therefore you should avoid using it if you can (although you will receive some forgiveness for being a foreigner). 
  3. There will always be a way to wash your hands before and after the meal. Sometimes a waiter will bring a basin and pitcher to the table. When this happens, hold your hands over the basin and they will pour water over your hands. 
  4. Don’t be shy! It’s okay to get your hands covered in food and it’s not always easy to grab the food you want with a piece of injera. It’s also okay to grab food directly with your hands, although it’s usually easier to use the injera anyway.
  5. When greeting people at a restaurant, often they will have already washed their hands, or they will be covered in food. In place of a handshake, they will offer you their wrist; lightly grasp their wrist but do not shake it. If your hands aren’t suitable for a handshake either, you can touch your wrist to theirs. 
  6. The gursha is a gesture that you may encounter - this is when a person will put food into your mouth. It is a gesture of respect and it is courteous to accept it.
  7. Especially if you are dining in an Ethiopian’s home, you will almost certainly be urged to keep eating even after you are full. When you are finished, you may have to insist a few times that you have eaten enough. Leave some food unfinished on your plate - this is a sign that you have had your fill. 
  8. If you are invited into someone’s home: Take your shoes off if they remove theirs, greet everybody present individually (starting with oldest first), and allow any elders to begin eating before you do. If you accept an invitation to eat at an Ethiopian’s house, it is very impolite to refuse food or eat little once you are there; make sure you are comfortable with Ethiopian food beforehand.

Pictures by me

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