“Many Ethiopians do not understand that Ireland is economically developed and is part of the EU,” said Henok Abebe…

By Lois Kapila |

After the service on Sunday morning, members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church head from the carpeted downstairs room where the service has been held, up a couple of flights of stairs and through a narrow corridor, to a hall on the top floor of the building.

Around the edge of the room are rows of chairs and several tables. There are about 100 people at the Lantern Centre on Synge Street for today’s service. Small and medium and big kids spring and jostle around the room, like wind-up toys set free.

At the tables at the front of the room, a few women are busy lining up some cans of Fanta and 7 Up, and shuffling a spread of dishes, the recognizable staples of the Ethiopian cuisine.

There are heaps of rolled-up spongy injera, tangy pancake-like bread. There are also big circular loaves that will shortly be cut into hunks of airy bread-like bread.

And there are bowls of rich stews. A thick red stew made with loads of onions and chunks of tender beef, called key wot. A bowl of soft turmeric-tinged potatoes and carrots and cabbage, called atakilt. An enormous plate of yellow rice, and a chicken-and-pea-and-sweetcorn mix.

It looks eyes-bigger-than-belly delicious.

My Quest

My search for Ethiopian food in Dublin started a while ago. I soon realized it would be difficult— although I didn’t realize it would end with me stalking members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, calling up, then dropping by, and wangling an invite to the next feast.

You can get most foods in the city – from the fermented tastes of Korea to the bean puddings of Nigeria. But there is a tragic gap in the city’s restaurant scene: there’s nowhere you can order a platter of fragrant Ethiopian stews.

Most people you ask, or whine at about it, have the same answer.

It’s probably because there aren’t many Ethiopians in Ireland, says Henok Abebe, a middle-aged guy sat next to me at the church meal, with a beanie and a self-deprecating sense of humor. “That’s my guess,” he says.

It is true that the number of Ethiopians in Ireland seems low.

Ethiopia has a large diaspora around the world, which grew from waves of emigration that began in the 1970s, with the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie and the start of the Marxist military regime, the Derg.

A second wave, in the 1980s, saw families migrate to join those who had made the journey first. The 1990s saw continued migration, as people fled political persecution and ethnic violence.

Most went to the United States and Canada. Those who came to Europe ended up mainly in Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

As of 2011, there were still only 274 people listed in the census who had been born in Ethiopia and were usually resident and present in Ireland. Some argue that that figure is likely to be an underestimate.

Some Ethiopians might be registered as Eritreans, says Marta Abebe who lived and studied in Ireland for six years before recently moving to the United States.

But Ireland doesn’t come high on the list as a destination for many Ethiopians, she says. Some might be put off by how hard it is to get a visa, or for Ethiopian refugees to be recognized in Ireland. Others seem to fear racism.

“Whenever I returned home [to Ethiopia] for break, many people ask me how I survived the racism, while for me it was not a huge problem,” she said.

“Many Ethiopians do not understand that Ireland is economically developed and is part of the EU,” said Abebe. “Many friends unexpectedly asked me how poor Ireland is, just as many Irish ask me if there is any food in Ethiopia.”

“Is There Food in Ethiopia?”

At the church, I jump into the queue for the buffet, start with an injera bread to line my plate, and a woman ladles little piles of each of the stews on top. Okay, I just lied. They were big piles.

I squidge back into my seat, rip off some of the bread and scoop up the first of the stews. The key wot is fragrant and spicy with a full, deep flavor that comes from hours and hours of simmering on the lowest heat.

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