What Can I Eat?

By Samrawit Tamyalew

Oh, Ethiopia. I was so excited to come to this land and have a taste of the cornucopia of delectable, organic, cultural food. Being in Ethiopia presented a perfect opportunity to regularly consume foods I normally would not eat, explore the Ethiopian cultural identity through meals, and have opportunities to sit with locals to learn about their experiences. Alas, it was not meant to be.  

In my few months here so far, I have gotten food poisoning not once, twice, but five times (that I recall).


My cultural food journey started off to a rocky start. I got mild food poisoning my first weekend here, which I chalked up to my stomach adjusting to a new food environment. I was fine after a few days and began to enjoy local cuisine, which had noticeably less sugar. But the food bliss did not last long; three weeks later I was hit with a bout of Haile Selassie’s revenge (Ethiopian version of Montezuma’s revenge) when I decided to eat shiro in a hole in the wall joint with my coworkers. I recalled my mother’s warning to eat cooked foods only, so I thought shiro would be safe because it is chickpea stew. It was disappointing to get sick because I knew my local food options would decrease significantly which would affect my lunch-time activities with local coworkers. I ate considerably less Ethiopian food and much to my dislike, returned to old eating habits. But I felt better.

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Quickly the end of February approached, which meant tsome. Tsome is the 55-day fasting period prior to Orthodox Easter. During this fasting period, people have differing opinions on what you should refrain from such as alcohol, smoking, and other vices, but everyone agrees it is a time to eat vegan. I decided to participate as a cultural Ethiopian Orthodox. I never fasted before and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do so. It started out well, I was able to rejoin coworkers during lunch but yet again my belly did not agree with my dietary choices. I stopped fasting and resumed eating animal products.
There are so many local foods I would have loved to try here but I know it would not be possible because of my sensitive stomach. Foods such as kitfo, raw beef tartare, or tire sega, raw meat are unique to Ethiopia. I am losing out on social interactions, opportunities to learn about regional foods, and a chance to gain cultural insight because I have a hard time processing local foods. Out of everything I have experienced thus far, my food journey has been far the most difficult.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship the organization and the leadership.