You have to eat spaghetti with a fork, right? Not in Ethiopia. There, you do battle with all those pasta strands and sauce by hand—though with some help from injera, the nation’s favorite spongy, pancake-like bread.
Ethiopians often eat injera with each meal, using it with a dizzying array of meats, sauces, and spices. Due to the country’s brief occupation by Italy in the 1930s, one version of an injera meal comprises a giant dollop of spaghetti Bolognese (sometimes with a bit of the fiery spice blend berbere mixed into the sauce) in the center of your pancake. You then tear strips of injera and clasp them between your fingers to gather—or at least try to—strands of pasta escaping everywhere.
For visitors, the slightly bitter, fermented flavor of injera can be an acquired taste. But to Ethiopians, injera is essential, both at home and abroad. (Demand is so high in Washington, D.C.—which has the United States’ highest proportion of Ethiopian immigrants—that Ethiopian Airlines flies in shipments of injera from the motherland daily.)
An injera meal can be messy for the unpracticed—especially the spaghetti option—and at the end of your meal, it often looks like you’ve dipped your hand into a pot of red or yellow paint. But it’s a small price to pay for a healthy meal: The tiny teff seed from which injera is made is regarded as a new super-grain, akin to quinoa and spelt, due to its high number of nutrients and being naturally gluten-free.
Need to Know
A common practice when eating injera with Ethiopians is "gursha," whereby someone, as an act of friendship, pops a blob of injera-enwrapped food in another person’s mouth. Ethiopians will often also do this if they see you struggling with your injera. Simply open your mouth like a newly-hatched chick to receive the incoming injera. Repeat if the hand comes back with more gursha—as it usually does.