Saturday, 19 October 2013

Injera Chronicles-Rude Food of Ethiopia

When a relative of mine visited Addis Abeba, the capital of Ethiopia and she brought some Injera, it was as if I was transported back in time to the days when I used to live in that wonderful country, the country of my childhood! Injera is a pancake like bread made out of fermented Teff flour. Teff refers to the tiny grains that grow in a grass like plant. The cultivation of Teff is a painstaking process in view of its being a tiny seed, white in colour. The Teff grain is ground into a powder and then it is mixed with water and fermented overnight. The fermented mixture is then poured over a heated earthenware gridle and cooked preferable over a stove that burns wood. The resulting pancake is dark grey in colour somewhat like the South Indian Dosa.
Injera, incidentally is the staple pancake for all Ethiopians. It is the bread which is eaten in accompaniment of Chicken, mutton, and beef curries, and the traditional Shero wat. Shero Wat is a gruel made of ground peas and a mixture of spices and root herbs. Injera would invariable served in the form of rolls, or in its extended form. The traditional method of serving Injera entails spreading it on a large circular platter with meats, curry, Shero wat(peas curry) and a leafy vegetable called Kosta ( a thicker variation of spinach) heaped on it. The platter placed on a wicker basket is then served to at least four guests who eat from the same platter. In taste, Injera has a slightly sour taste, springy yet delicate in form, it absorbs the spicy curry, often reducing the sharp spicy tang of the curry. People say that Injera is full or iron, and I guess this is true, looking at its dark grey colour and sharp, sour taste! The mixing of subtle amounts of maize flour would determine its texture and colour.
For all Ethiopians, Injera, like coffee is an institution. It is a cause for bringing together members of the family and a way of honouring guests. The eating of injera in the traditional way entails guests and diners eating together while sitting around a platter which is really huge, about one meter in diameter.  Injera is often served in accompaniment of various non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. While Birz is a harmless drink made of fresh honey, tela is a lightly alcoholic local drink made from fermented local bread, while tej is a highly alcoholic drink made from fermented honey.
Bureaucrats, expatriates, and diplomats  in Ethiopia often prefer to be served with injera in the form of rolls rather like spring-rolls. Otherwise, Injera has a large diameter of about a meter or more. It goes without saying that many of those who taste injera for the first time are smitten by its taste, texture, and appearance. For me to taste injera after so many years after I had left Ethiopia was like returning to what had been my home for more than fourteen odd years!
There are those however who might not like the rather strong flavour of Injera. My father, when he first arrived in Ethiopia thought that this pancake looked suspiciously like raw rubber latex. My younger brother did not like it because it tickled his palette. Others avoided it because, probably, its rather high iron content affected their digestion!  All in all, Injera has always been a weakness for me, and I would always go to great lengths to have a bit of it! Injera is the traditional staple food of all Ethiopians and it needs to be introduced to the international palette. Unfortunately, the existence of teff seems to be limited largely to the country, and the harvesting of the teff grain is tedious.
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