When I moved back to Israel after a stint spent working in England, I was determined to carry on sharing the culture and the cooking from my homeland, Ethiopia.
During my four years as an Israeli emissary in London, the Jewish community loved hearing about my family’s background, so I opened up my flat in Netanya to tourists from the Diaspora for them to experience Ethiopian-Jewish home hospitality.
Today there are around 140,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin in Israel. We have a unique cultural and religious tradition. What makes visiting an Ethiopian Jewish home so different is seeing and feeling the continued strong presence of values of a bygone era.
But, of course, we are all Jewish and the way we connect is… food.
I prepare all sorts of foods cooked on the stove. As the wafting aroma of the slow-cooked dishes fills the room, I bring to the table a very large plate on which I place a thin, flat bread called injera. This bread is the basis of any Ethiopian meal. Injera is made with teff, a special grain native to Ethiopia. Not only is it tasty but it is extremely healthy and even gluten-free. In recent years the world has discovered our secret, and teff has become known as one of the ultimate superfoods.
I arrange all the different stews, sauces, meats and vegetables on the injera. The presentation always looks amazing, and I love to see the look in the eyes of my guests when they see the feast in front of them.
Eating in an Ethiopian household is a truly collaborative affair. There are no knives and forks, and we all eat together from the large plate at the centre of the table. Using your right hand, you break off part of the injera and scoop up whichever of the sauces, meats or vegetables you want.
If there’s something on the other side you can’t reach, ask someone to scoop it up and feed you. In Ethiopian culture, creating the perfect mouthful and feeding another is a way of expressing love. As we share the delicious food, we talk about life, love, our differences and the things we have in common. I also share with my guests memories of life in our village in Ethiopia.
From my time in the UK and from my British-born husband, Joel, and from my daughters Eliya and Lishan, I know how important dessert is. However, in Ethiopian culture eating something sweet after a meal is not common. Instead, it is coffee time.
I roast the coffee beans over the fire and bring the crackling pan over to the guests. This is the beginning of the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony — the buna. We drink three cups, poured in the traditional way, high above the glass. I also serve Ethiopian snacks such as dabo — warm, home-baked Ethiopian bread. As we relax, drink and eat (even more) together, it is time to tell my family’s own story.
I am one of 10 children, all born in Ethiopia. Jews have been in Ethiopia for more than two and a half millennia. We always dreamed of one day returning home to Jerusalem — to Israel.
My grandfather was a Kes — a wise and learned religious leader of the Jewish community. Each Shabbat he would gather us all together for stories about Jerusalem and he’d tell us how it was our true home.
My father was head of our village and secretly helped many people to flee Ethiopia for a new life in Israel. Later on, he became a prisoner of Zion — thrown in jail, tortured and threatened with death for his beliefs and actions.
The story of our arrival to Israel is one of suffering, sorrow and sacrifice, but also one of struggle, determination and belief. Each time I relate the story, I become prouder of our heritage and tradition.
Eginsu’s House, currently located in Netanya, will soon be moving to Harish. Find details on Facebook via @eginsushouse