Lo­cals flock to Taste of Ethiopia

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Joella Bau­mann

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 spicysour mix of in­jera bread and stews.

That why for the past five years, thou­sands of lo­cals have flocked to the an­nual Taste of Ethiopia.

At this festival the food is pre­pared just as 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, 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, such as 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 cof­feefront 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 shadesof-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 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.

Te­wa­hade 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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