Denver isn’t in the dark about Ethiopian food.
In some cities, Ethiopian cuisines are a niche market for adventurous foodies. But Colorado has become a hub for African-inspired restaurants serving the country’s famous spicy-sour mix of injera bread and stews.
That why for the last five years, thousands of locals have flocked to the annual Taste of Ethiopia.
At this festival the food is prepared just like it would be in the old country, said Sophia Belew, who normally cooks traditional food as a volunteer at church. There is no watering down of the spices to make them more palatable for Euro-centric tastes.
“This is it,” Belew said. “Authentic Ethiopian cuisine.”
The festival served up an array of stews called wats plopped on top of African sponge-bread. Doro Wot, s the national dish of Ethiopia, is usually served at weddings and special occasions. It’s chicken bathed in a blend of spices called berbere and served alongside a veggie, like collards with Ayib (Ethiopian cottage cheese) and Awaze (Ethiopian hot sauce).
Belew said it’s not a celebration without Doro Wot.
Festival curators didn’t disappoint on the coffee-front either. Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of coffee.
“We take it very seriously,” said Neb Asfaw, who is from Ethiopia and one of the event founders. “A coffee ceremony can take several hours.”
The beans, which start out green, are roasted over an open flame to different degrees to produce light medium and dark roast coffees. The resulting shades-of-brown beans are then ground down and placed into imported-from-Ethiopia clay pots and boiled.
The resulting brew — strong, oily and flavorful — is served with or without several dollops of sugar, but don’t even think about asking for cream, Asfaw said.
The food isn’t the only thing that draws people to the festival and keeps them coming back. The rich culture does as well.
“We’re bringing the community and culture to those who have left Ethiopia and it’s our way of passing our heritage to the next generation of kids who are born here in American society,” said. Neb Asfaw. “We want to preserve our heritage and also bring it to the local community.”
Most important to the festival and the Ethiopian community was to take the time to honor model citizens who are involved with and supporting the immigrant community.
Investment manager and business owner Mel Tewahade said he moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia 35 years ago with little more than $20 in his pocket.
“I help people in the community to get acclimated to American way of life and adjusting to cultural differences,” Tewahade said. “Making life easier for newcomers. How should they dress themselves and cut their nails and present themselves to have opportunity in labor market.
Tewhade said he sees a lack of role models in the black community and is trying to fill that void.
“When you don’t have role models, you don’t have anyone to guide you. When you lack that guidance you don’t get a lot of the opportunity you need to be successful in the community.”
For those outside the Ethiopian community, it was a way to learn more about a culture that has drawn them in with food.
“There’s been a proliferation of Ethiopian restaurants on Colfax and it’s so delicious,” said Leslie Twarogowski, who is the president of Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “So when I heard of this festival I wanted to come.”
“You have the Greek festival and the Irish festival and all these other cultural festivals that have been around forever,” said Asfaw. “We’re in our fifth year and hope that this will continue into the next generation, the next decade and even after we’re gone. That’s our dream.”
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