Washington, DC is home to the largest Ethiopian community outside of Ethiopia. When I first moved here in 1988 I was blown away by the “exotic” food from this country that I really only knew about from news of its famine from 1983-1985 and the star-studded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” video.
Over the years, I have become increasingly fascinated with this African nation that is unlike any other on the continent. Its topography is striking to say the least – it has one of the lowest and hottest places on the planet (Danakil Depression) and soars to record heights with one of the highest mountains in Africa (Ras Dashen).
It is the only African country to have never been colonized by another country, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church is one of the oldest Christian communities with rituals that have more in common with Judaism than other Christian strains.
The following books will help give you an idea of the richness of this country and guide you through its unique history, culture, beauty and food.
Coffee Story: Ethiopia by Majka Burhardt
Coffee is one of the world’s most widely consumed beverages and nowhere is this more apparent than in Ethiopia, widely considered to be its birthplace. Ethiopians drink more coffee than any other place on the planet. Coffee Story shows the incredible link between this crop and the Ethiopian people. It also delves into the larger role it plays in Ethiopia's history, culture, and commerce. This book is for any fan of coffee and Ethiopia as well as anyone passionate about fair trade and economic justice.
Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa by Yohanis Gebreyesus
Without a doubt the food of Ethiopia stands out as one of the world’s most unique cuisines. The country is twice the size of France and is made up of multiple regions, climates and ethnic groups, each with its unique tastes and food culture. Ethiopia is loaded with stunning photography of its landscapes, people, and, of course, the food. One of the unifying staples throughout the country is injera, the sponge-like bread made from the grain teff, and eaten at almost every meal.
Ethiopia: History, Culture, and Challenges edited by Siegbert Uhlig
This book leans more on the academic side and provides a comprehensive look at all things Ethiopian. It has judicious chapters detailing the history, peoples, geography, religion, and politics of the country and can serve as a springboard for more in depth reading and research. The chapters are the fruit of over eighty-five scholars from over fifteen countries and stands as a concise version of the more detailed five volume Encyclopaedia Aethiopica. A must for anyone interested in learning about Ethiopia.
Eating the Flowers of Paradise: A Journey Through the Drug Fields of Ethiopia and Yemen by Kevin Rushby
Part travelogue and part cultural exploration of Ethiopia (as well as Yemen) and its relationship to Qat. Qat is a stimulant that some say is as “mild as tea or addictive as cocaine.” It’s legal in Ethiopia and England but barred in the United States. Chewing Qat is a social experience that is very common among men in Ethiopia and most prevalent in the eastern part of the country. Kevin Rushby embarks upon a journey throughout the country along the old “Qat Road” exploring the relationship between Ethiopians and Qat. On this journey he encounters an array of colorful characters and the renowned hospitality of the region. This book provides a unique angle into this mysterious country and common practice.
Yes Chef!: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson
Many food fans will know Marcus Samuelsson from his famous restaurant in Harlem - Red Rooster. Others may know him from his appearances on the Food Network with shows like Chopped and on PBS’s No Passport Required. When Anthony Bourdain visited Ethiopia in 2015, Mr. Samuelsson served as his guide. But many people may not be aware of his dramatic story which starts in Ethiopia with his mother walking him and his sister over seventy miles to Addis Ababa, all of them suffering from tuberculosis. Shortly after their arrival, his mother succumbs to the disease. A year later Marcus and his sister are adopted by a loving Swedish couple. It’s in Sweden that a love for food is gifted to him from his adoptive Grandmother and he eventually studies at the Culinary Institute in Gothenberg, Sweden. From there Marcus begins another remarkable journey to Switzerland and France working at some of their most famous restaurants. He finally arrives in New York where he hits high notes at Aquivit. Marcus’s accounts of kitchen life illustrate how gruelling the culinary profession can be. One of the more touching parts of his memoir is the account of his return to Ethiopia to meet the father he never knew. Yes, Chef is a journey well worth taken.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw MenjestuDinaw Menjestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1978 and immigrated to the United States. This is his debut novel that is set in Washington, DC and tells the story of Sepha Stephanos who has fled the Ethiopian revolution. This book has a strong Ethiopia and Washington, DC connection. Stepha settles in DC and runs a struggling grocery store. His only only companions are two other African immigrants. Together they long for their home continent. As the neighborhood changes Sepha becomes neighbors and friends with Judith and Naomi who help him navigate his way. The novel captures the immigrant struggle of creating a new beginning in a strange and challenging new place.