Why is it that we so often associate ourselves intimately with the foods we eat – or don’t? Culture is often held deep to the heart, and even more so, to the stomach. Nevertheless, foreigners are often perplexed when an Ethiopian proudly exclaims over their injera ‘This is our culture!’ as if all of the complexities of the country had come to rest, neatly, in the finely alveolated bread.
The tart after linger of injera often upsets non-Ethiopian tasting buds and the texture is alien to foreigners’ culinary norms. But tastes, like colors, as the French like to say, should not be discussed, for we are sure to disagree – on which is better, fresher or tastier. And from German sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) to the delicacy of certain worm infested cheese of France, much could be said about other people’s strange taste buds – and it is always others’ tastes who are strange, not our own.
So, really, we can recognize that if we differ in our tastes, we are similar in our concern. We like the foods we grew up with, and they are often the only ones that satisfy us –we eat less with our stomach than we do with our hearts. Deep down, we like the comfort of the foods we ate together with those we loved when growing up.
We can see this at work in the mirroring meanings of ‘companion’ and ባልንጀራ (balinjera). The first term’s etymology being to sit down and break bread together, whereas the second, Amharic one, is to partake of injera. In both languages, the words signify friendship and sitting down to eat together and mirror each other perfectly. We are friends with our fellow diners, regardless of our different tastes. Whether we break bread or tear up injera, we sit together to do so. And this, is indeed our common culture.
Note: this post contains Amharic script. If you noticed boxes and squiggles you can install a free Amharic font from here to display the script correctly.