On one winter day, here in Europe, nostalgia took me to a hidden gem, where I experienced home away from home. Approximately forty minute drive – From Luxembourg city to small town in northwestern Luxembourg known as Heiderscheid – which gradually changing from city feel to suburb through long trees and wide open fields each side, made the journey as meditative as the destination.
Disguised as nostalgia, actually living in Europe as an Ethiopian is actuating me to discover myself even more through the things I am missing the most from back home – the sweltering sun of Africa, Ethiopian national staple – Injera, and the spirit of deeply religious people.
Bundling up before hitting the outdoors during winter is one of the things that took me a while to adjust. Even though I miss ‘the 13 months of sunshine’ which my homeland know for, I am blessed to witness the beauty of winter in its own unique way as well.
Loved autumn in spite of the fact that it felt cold for the child of sun like me. Beautiful was witnessing green leafs gradually changing into yellow and golden brown. Eventually falling on the ground creating beautiful mess. I smelled winter from afar through the wind excitingly swirling leafs on the ground and bare trees which I loved as everything has its own season.
Greeted winter by witnessing its own beauty which changed bare trees into sparkling gray and White Sea like fields brimmed with snow white. While learning to be friends with winter, homesickness knocks on the door to take me on a date – down to memory lane while stirring up my soul.
Who would have thought that I find Ethiopian restaurant in a small European country like Luxembourg – which I am letting to grown in me as my new home. As an African, bold happy colors like the building in which Chez Jimmy Restaurant Ethiopien housed in lures me instantly. Obviously the two story building is typical Europe and Luxembourg, nothing about Ethiopia from the outside but I hardly judge a book by it is cover so my curiosity soar way up high as a child to go inside and discover my home – Ethiopia, Africa – in Europe.
The moment I opened the door and took a step in, I smelled home through incense, food being prepared and even the furniture. My sense of hearing also instantly welcomed me to home through local Amharic music which was being played softly in the background … from then on I can’t really help feeling sense of belonging.
I was looking at the furniture and the decorations which screams out loud ETHIOPIA with a sense of wonder as I have never seen it before. Being away from home for a while made me realize how we tend to take ordinary things around us which makes the big picture whole for granted.
I was not quick to order rather I took my time to see myself in everything that made up this Ethiopian restaurant. Small wood carved chairs which usually and beautifully conveys treasures of Ethiopia on them – the rock – hewn church of Lalibela, the obelisk of Axum, and the fairy tale like castle Fasiledes.
Mesob – table like colorful straw made basket – surrounded by small chairs. White curtain which is the emblem of cotton made Ethiopian traditional clothing with colorful embroideries.
For a moment, I contemplated the restaurant as a museum, re-learning about my own country as the restaurant’s wall is embellished with eloquent details of Ethiopia – Jebena (clay made traditional coffee pot), Kirar and Begena (traditional music instruments), paintings, Amharic scripts and many more.
Obviously food is the most cherished way to discover a country. Unlike Ethiopian traditional restaurants in Addis Ababa or any other parts of the country, which most likely tends to serve locals by locals, I choose not to compare and expect exactly alike experience as this restaurant is in Europe literally being a representative of Ethiopian cuisine for the rest of the world.
The menu comprised emblematic Ethiopian dishes, which I grew up eating and missing so much. It took me little while to decide as I was bit overwhelmed by the whole experience. As I always do, I eventually followed my guts and went for a combination platter of Ethiopian food.
There are two kinds of platter in Ethiopian cuisine culture, one which contains little bit of rich, warm, meat lover, comforting and holiday stews known as Maheberawi (Ye Fisik Beyaynetu). Ye Tsome Beyaynetu is more vegetable and grain based dishes which usually consumed during lent offering (fasting days) for Ethiopian Orthodox Religion devotees.
Clearly I went for the rich, warm, holiday feel platter of Ethiopian food as my soul needed a hug on that gloomy winter day in Europe and it was a date with nostalgia after all so the choice made sense. For my Belgian husband we went for his Ethiopian favorite dish Tibs ( Ye Beg Tibs) – grilled or stir fried lamb cubes with onion serve on traditional clay pot.
As I mentioned Injera is one of the things I missed so much while being away from home for so long and I can relate with many Ethiopians on this matter. I used to hear about having Injera outside the country is never the same from Ethiopian friends and family who lives outside the country so now it is my turn to find out what they really meant. Obviously being informed beforehand prepared me to lower my expectation on satisfying my craving for authentic Injera outside my country.
Many Ethiopians like me, who grew up eating Injera with everything and almost every day and witnessing Ethiopian mother’s, turning beloved tiny Teff grain with love into a round very filling base of Ethiopian cuisine, argues that Injera is hardly the same once its step out of its home land – Ethiopia – due to different factors – ingredients, utensil, weather, adjustments, overall vibe and alike.
During traveling to another country one of the basic things which most probably could be found in an Ethiopian luggage would be Teff flour. Obviously not only for the restaurants but for many of us hardly manage to bring the true essence of Injera like we know it back home in another foreign land in our new home where ever it may be.
Injera has sourish taste due to the fermentation process and we Ethiopians believe that this sourish taste goes very well with spicy Ethiopian dishes. Obviously it takes time for many foreigners to get around Injera on the very first time trying it and as my foreigner friends would say either you like it or not.
Thus, it would make sense to make it less sourish by minimizing the fermentation process or mixing it with other grains like rice, corn or wheat in which is the case these days in regarding making Injera more approachable to foreigners and of course for another factor of not having easy access to this tiny grain Teff like in its own home land –Ethiopia. Either way for many Ethiopians including me these approach kills the true essence of Injera and having it in this form makes us to miss home even more.
Back to the restaurant, I loved the warm presentation of the food. The very thing that stood out for me was the tray with bold Amharic script written on it which literally means ‘Bone Appetite for Ethiopians.’ The little traditional clay made bowls made me feel at home.
Even though there is no written rule on sticking to the combination of Ethiopian platter dish and of course there is room for being creative but I like the old fashion way of Mahberawi (Ye Fisik Beyaynetu) platter as I mention earlier, so here a bit of twist made by adding two fasting dishes which I think they belong to in the other platter but that is just my take on it.
Unlike European table etiquette – food being consumed with knife, fork or spoon, and going through from one little course to another – Gathering around one big meal and dipping into it with hand, getting intimate with the food and expressing love via Gursha – feeding one another – is all about Ethiopian communal eating culture. Thus we put my husband’s order in a round tray which my order served in, just like Ethiopians would eat with family and we plunged in with our hands.
Unlike the Injera, I would say the stews are as good and as closer to home. As an Ethiopian, my taste bud love that kick of a heat. Berbere (a chili-spice blend) is another basic ingredient of Ethiopian cuisine and like Teff flour Bereber spice mix is also a travel companion which usually ends up in many Ethiopian travel luggage.
I enjoyed Berber very well in two stews – Doro wot (Chicken Stew) and Siga Wot (Beef Stew) – which are included in this Ethiopian Restaurant version of Ye Fisik Beyaynet (Mahberawi). Cottage cheese comes along with many holiday dishes of Ethiopia, not only to ease the heat but for comfort as well.
Last but not least, it was refreshing to have the other two vegetable based Ethiopian dishes in this assortment, Ye Tikil Goman (white cabbage and carrot with hint of turmeric) and Selata (simple tomato and lettuce salad).
After having deliciously filling Ethiopian dish, washing reddish and bit messy hand even though the lingering smell of exotic spices that made up the stews definitely leave traces behind which doesn’t wear off quickly. Unlike having sweet dessert after a meal, it is coffee that always follows the big hearty meal in Ethiopian eating culture.
Being the origin and land of coffee, having this worldly admired hot beverage in Ethiopia, Ethiopian household and of course Ethiopian Restaurants in another country is a must have experience all by itself as Coffee is a religion for Ethiopian.
In Ethiopia coffee comes with all its glory along with eloquent details that makes it unique –Traditional coffee pot, cup, burning incense – soul reviving way of welcoming all human race to their own home as Ethiopia is indeed cradle of humanity.
Jimmy Ethiopian Restaurant is a hidden gem which I am gratefully surprised to find here in Luxembourg. I say thank you for a beautiful experience…
Home away from home!