Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yameftehay guday, chewna berbere lay
(A solution lies in salt and spice)
—Proverb written on the back windscreen
of a motorbike taxi in the market town of
Welkite, Ethiopia

I n 1 8 8 7 , on a mountaintop overlooking Addis Ababa, her kingdom’s
new capital, Queen Taytu Bitul laid out a magnificent feast for her guests.
She had prepared pots of mutton stew, roasted beef, spiced soups, peppered
pea sauce, minced meat sautéed in butter flavored by exotic spices, all
accompanied by rivers of honey wine. The scents of the simmering stews,
the buzz of the assembled guests, and the tableau of elegant presentations
were part of an elaborate theater of political ritual, but the food itself had
not only taste, aroma, and texture, but also historical meaning. The act
of the feast, I would argue, had as much to do with the meaning of the
cooking as with taste of the food itself.

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