[dehai-news] (Columbia Daily Tribune) Eritrean hospitality

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From: Biniam Haile \(SWE\) (eritrea.lave@comhem.se)
Date: Wed Jan 14 2009 - 16:00:50 EST

Family retains the roots of culture's cooking in Columbia
By MARCIA VANDERLIP of the Tribune's staff

Published Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Things take time in Eritrea, a sliver of a country on the northeast
coast of Africa. Making the daily bread, injera, takes days. The spongy
flatbread is made from teff, which is planted and harvested by hand -
and oxen. The tiny grain is ground into flour and made into dough, which
then ferments for two or three days before cooking on a flat skillet.
Injera is layered under the slow-cooked stews made of beef, lamb or
chicken and a hot pepper-paste - berbera. Eritreans like their food
Making coffee also is a slow process. The coffee ceremony can take
hours, a show of hospitality to visitors in Eritrean homes. Women roast
raw coffee beans over a fire in a pan, grind the beans and take them to
the family jebena, the clay coffee pot. The coffee is brought to a near
boil three times, then poured into small cups called finjal. It is often
served with salted popcorn. During the ceremony, a censer - mebekoria -
sends up streams of fragrance from a small table near the pot.
"Our mothers made the coffee twice a day," explained Adam Ghebrewahid
Berhe as he watched his wife, Akbaret Hailu Hagos, prepare coffee during
a Christmas celebration last Wednesday.
The Columbia couple and their sons, Sami, 19, Aman, 15, and Noah, 11,
observe the holiday on Dec. 25 and again on Jan. 7, with the world's
Russian Orthodox Christians and other Orthodox who follow the Julian
calendar. Akbaret was raised Orthodox Christian.
Akbaret and Adam are from Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. The family's
tribe and their language is Tigrigna, the dialect of about 50 percent of
the nation. Italian is among the other languages spoken in the city.
Adam's father, a shoemaker in Asmara, spoke four of the country's 9
languages, including Italian, Adam said. Their city's architecture and
food culture were influenced by Italy, which occupied the country from
1889 to 1941. Italians helped design many of its art deco, cubist and
futuristic buildings. "We eat pasta, too," Akbaret said.
Most often, however, she cooks traditional Eritrean food in her
northeast Columbia home.
Adam left Eritrea in 1978 to work at the U.S. Embassy in Saudia Arabia.
In 1985 he returned to Eritrea to meet his future bride, Akbaret. "My
mother told me she had found a wife for me," he explained. "After two
months, we were married," he said, adding that the arranged marriage has
been a success; the couple will celebrate 24 years of marriage in April.
Adam and Akbaret's three sons were born in Saudi Arabia, where
educational opportunities were limited for foreigners. So, in October of
2002 the family moved to Columbia, where they were welcomed by a small
community of some 50 Eritreans. "We didn't know anything about America,"
Adam said. The family also found St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church. About a
year later, their spongy injera bread and spicy stews were served next
to the Greek and Romanian food at the church's annual More Than a Greek
Food Festival.
Akbaret is a very good cook. "I love to cook and hate to wash dishes,"
she said. "When I cook, Adam cleans the house," she explained. Her son,
Aman, likes to help her bake, and all of her children have helped
decorate the hembasha, a sweet flat bread made during festivals or
Eritrean hospitality

Retrieving recipes from Akbaret requires participation. She doesn't use
cookbooks or write down her recipes. "I learned from my mother,
beginning at age 11," she said. "The recipes were in her head." Among
the most important ingredients in her pantry is berbere, dried red
pepper paste that goes into thick stews of meat, vegetable dishes and
onto the injera, which is used to scoop up the goods.
Akbaret makes coffee for special occasions, but she and Adam prefer to
drink tea made of freshly ground cinnamon, cardamom and cloves steeped
with black tea and a little sugar. She made the tea for lunch, which
consisted of injera, vegetables in garlic and curry spices - alicha -
and a thick, spicy beef stew - Qowa.
Two days later, Akbaret laid out a much bigger spread for the Eritrean
Christmas. Last Monday, she made a number of dishes, including red
lentil stew, a spinach dish and Chicken Zigni. Her zigni is made with
seasoned clarified butter, or tesmi. Many Eritreans cook with tesmi
especially for dishes such as Zigni or Dorho Wat. Wat is the sauce.
Akbaret is among the Eritreans in America who use tesmi for special
occasions and olive oil or canola oil for everyday dishes.
The center of Eritrean food culture is family and community, Akbaret
explained. In keeping with that tradition, "We eat our meals together,
from a large plate" at the center of the table. The family's plate is
first layered with the injera, which soaks up the juices of the spicy
stews as the family eats.
Salads and vegetable dishes are often served with the meat stews. "We
always eat together and talk about our day. There is peace and love when
everyone is together this way," she explained.
Most days, when Noah and Aman get home from school around 4 p.m.,
Akbaret is preparing a meal. They snack on a kitcha, a homemade
cracker-like bread also served at breakfast.
Kitcha fit fit is Eritrean breakfast food made with kitcha, spiced
clarified butter and berbere. The evening meal is usually ready by 5
p.m. On weekends, Akbaret makes enough injera for the rest of the week.
We don't eat fast food," Akbaret said. "My boys like my food, and they
know how to eat at home."


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