Japanese art leads to Ethiopian coffee.
Last week the kids and I drove to our capital city to visit the Art Museum. We found a parking garage, walked through the mist towards Main Street, and turned left. The Museum was on our right. Banners were flying, advertising their newest exhibit - Japan and the Jazz Age. Once in the museum we enjoyed looking at the kimonos, the art, 1920’s era advertisements, pottery and beautiful items found in homes. We saw stationary boxes and smoking sets, and sheet music. The Jazz Age in Japan was an interesting time because the traditional manners and dress were so different than the 1920’s American culture many Japanese were adopting.
We toured the entire museum then we were ready to eat and drive home. We walked one way and found a coffee shop in a hotel, all glass and sleek and expensive. We walked the other way and found a steak shop, a salad and chicken shop, a chicken wrap shop and more of the same. Looking across the street we saw a sign, Ethiopian cuisine. The doors were wide open and only one man was inside, leisurely drinking coffee. The building was old, with broken tile, but the tables had tablecloths and the walls were covered with posters. The posters were mostly of women pouring coffee. One poster showed a chart of the Ethiopian Alphabet.
We asked to share a meal of a meat dish. The woman that is half owner of the restaurant brought to our table a wide woven basket with a lid. She took the lid off. Inside was what looked like a gray spongy mat. She brought out jars of food and dished out piles of lentils, greens, and veggies onto the mat, a set of piles for my son, my daughter and me. We looked confused. She laughed, and with a napkin to demonstrate she explained how to eat.
“You tear a piece of bread like this, use only your right hand, pinch the food with the bread to pick it up, and eat.”
Apparently the gray mat was bread. I tore a piece, pinched up some lentils and ate. It was delicious. We enjoyed every bite and happily told her so. She smiled. “Now I will bring the meat dish. I just wanted you to try the vegetables.” We ate and ate. The lentils had 30 or more spices in them. The greens were rich and flavorful. The meat was excellent.
Then the owner invited us to a coffee ceremony.
She set chairs around a low table covered with plastic grasses and a tray of beautiful china cups. At her side was an electric eye, plugged in with an extension cord that snaked behind the counter. She turned off the TV that had been playing Ethiopian music videos. From a plastic container she filled a pan with green coffee beans. She began heating them on the electric eye. At the same time she lit incense, a traditional part of the ceremony. We sat in a circle while she heated the beans by shaking the pan over the heat. The beans popped and jumped, blackened and filled the room with a great smell. The restaurant was full of the rich odor of incense and roasted coffee.
With an electric grinder she prepared the beans. Next she added water to a traditional clay pot, and heated this over the burner. She added three handfuls of coffee grounds to the water and we waited and chatted.
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an important part of daily life. A woman prepares the coffee, and during the long time it takes, everyone visits. To be invited to a ceremony is a sign of respect and friendship. No one is in a hurry, and this is good because the ceremony takes a very long time.
Finally the coffee was ready, and carefully poured into three tiny china cups. We slowly sipped the richest and freshest coffee ever tasted. Outside it was rainy and people and cars rushed past the open doors. Inside, sitting around a low table covered in plastic grass, sipping fresh Ethiopian coffee, I felt transported to another world, a place of humble hospitality.
Image borrowed from Google Images and Baltimore Sun
Later I read about Ethiopian food and the coffee ceremony. Ethiopia is a very old country, and seems to be the birthplace of coffee. Ethiopia has an ancient language with its own script, and alphabet I had never seen before. I am ashamed of how little I know about this country.
The spongy bread is grass based, which makes it gluten free, and is called injera. The traditional way to drink the coffee is with sugar, salt or butter. We drank it black, and loved the richness, but like any boiled coffee, leave the last drop in the cup.
This restaurant was called Salina's Cafe in Columbia SC.