The first way to get familiar with a culture is to learn about the food. Every culture has a way of eating and there are some rules pertaining to the table manners you must know that educates you about the nature of the culture and its people.
Visiting Dukem Ethiopian restaurant at one of its locations in DC on U street, I got to learn a lot about the Ethiopian culture beyond what I presumed I knew already. I had once eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant with an Israeli friend who was pretty culture aware and taught me how to eat Injera for the first time ever. It was a fun experience but because we were both novices, it was nothing like actually chatting with and learning from an Ethiopian restaurateur who has been in business for almost twenty years.
KNOW YOUR AFRICA
Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa- Eastern Africa, west of Somalia. Capital: Addis Ababa. Population: 99.39 million, Capital and largest city: Addis Ababa, Regional languages: Oromo, Amharic,Afar, Somali, Tigrinya, Official language: Amharic
Mr. Tefera Zewdie, the Ethiopian restaurateur behind the Dukem restaurant chains shared a platter of a staple Ethiopian dish with me and it was not only a fun experience but an expose about this Eastern African cuisine and culture.
Why Your Next Intimate Outing Should be at an Ethiopian Restaurant:
Have you ever imagined that eating with your hands could be the secret to bonding with your boss, a date, co-workers and anyone?
The most exciting thing I learnt and have come to love about Ethiopian cuisine or dining is the sociable aspect of it. Mr. Tefera says that most traditional Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands and it is tradition to share and never eat by yourself , referred to as eating from a communal plate. As we shared a platter, he demonstrated how to eat (Ethiopian style) Injera which is done by tearing off a piece of injera, using it to grab some food, and putting it directly in your mouth. Eating the wot that is closest to you, eating with your right hand, washing your hands before eating, accepting “gursha” as a gesture of love i.e when a person puts food in your mouth— are all some rules to eating like an Ethiopian.
When eating with your hands, try not to let the food touch your fingers which means you have to properly use the injera as the utensil to pick the wot into your mouth without messing it all over the place.
Imagine you have to take your boss, a business partner, your co-worker or even your date to dine with you and you hope to get closer to that person? Generally breaking bread together is always a major key to building a bond with someone but a more special way of getting closer faster is visiting a luxurious Ethiopian restaurant like Dukem where you can eat in style, and by that I mean “sharing a platter and eating with your hands”. Sharing a platter builds automatic social bond because you are eating from a communal plate that allows you to get closer in space also permitting for deeper conversations and connection.
There is no how you can share a platter eating with your hands and not love whom you are dinning with. Next time you want to build a connection with someone, think of the Ethiopian cuisine! It is in style, it permits for intimacy and at Dukem, the ambiance is very relaxing and cozy which makes for the perfect dining atmosphere.
101 of Ethiopian Cuisine
Most Ethiopian food is served alongside injera, the staple food of the country. Injera is a flat, sour, soft, and spongy bread made of teff flour that’s naturally vegan and gluten-free. Sauces and dishes are commonly poured on top of the injera, which is then used as a vehicle to get the delicacies from table to mouth. It can be made with different types of grains and therefore comes in a few different flavors and colors. Served with injera are a number of various wots. The wot is the traditional dish of Ethiopia and are mixtures of vegetables, meats, spices and sauces. Mr. Tefera explained that usually, wots are spicy and that is one peculiar thing about the cuisine, although there are non-spicy options. Wots are served on top of injera - which serves as both the plate and the utensil.
Sample Dukem Meal: The Vegetarian and Meat Platter
As a means of introducing me to the Ethiopian cuisine, we tried out the vegetarian and meat platter. There are varied food items spread across the injera which is spread on the communal plate.
This dish comes with a side of rolled injera. Some of the dishes on the platter include Shiro which is a delicious chickpea powder-based included lentils and broad beans slow-cooked with Ethiopia’s popular and spicy red berbere sauce. Lamb along with vegetables sautéed to make tibs .
Wot is a delicious and beautifully colored combination of split red lentils simmered in spicy berbere sauce. A lively sauce prepared with berbere, nitir kibe & meat, fish or legumes.
Ayibe is a cottage cheese that is mild and crumbly. It is much closer in texture to crumbled feta. Alecha is a delicately mild sauce made from meat, legumes or beans with garlic, ginger and Mitmita- Bird’s eye red pepper spiced with cardamom & salt, usually served with Kitfo.
Dukem’s Vegetarian Dishes
Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are vegan Due to the fact that many Ethiopians are Orthodox. Many Ethiopians fast two days a week; Wednesday and Friday, in addition to the two months of fasting before Easter (the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter later than other Christian sects). On these days, they do not eat or drink until 3pm and also refrain from eating animal products (except for fish). Some restaurants do not serve meat on these days of the week, for the Dukem restaurant Mr. Tefera says they offer a number of vegetarian dishes any day of the week.
As we wrapped up our lovely conversation over the delicious shared platter, we decided to have some more fun taking pictures! Getting exposed to the Ethiopian cuisine and a bit of the culture left me feeling like a champ! I am excited and looking forward to taking friends out to try this cuisine and of course showing off my ‘culturally aware self!’
Address: 1114-1118 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009