FRED KHUMALO: Getting to know ‘the other’
When Selassie visited Jamaica, he was startled to see people cry out: ‘Yahweh is here!’; Tucking into the food at Habesha, I felt the same
To know a people, you have to understand their culture. It’s a belief I’ve always cherished but no one has reinforced it as eloquently as my 17-year-old daughter Malaika.
When she was 14, she fell in love with a South Korean boy band called BTS. They looked so slick and proper that I found myself scoffing.
My comments only hardened her resolve. Her bedroom wall was suddenly festooned with posters of these boys. She spent inordinate amounts of her time watching their videos online and mouthing what they were singing. We started getting requests to take her to Korean restaurants. It took two visits to different Korean restaurants before I could understand the essence of their cuisine.
On the first occasion, we were astounded when Malaika started having a conversation with the Korean manager of the restaurant. At home she told us she had taught herself Korean, taking online classes. Not only can she speak Korean, she can actually read it. For her 16th birthday we flew her to South Korea, with her friend and the friend’s mother. Her friend’s mother told us Malaika had charmed her way into the hearts of Korean people — "speaking the language as if she was born to it".
Anyway, it was in this spirit of getting to know "the other" that I took my other two kids — Malaika is still at boarding school — to an Ethiopian restaurant this past weekend.
I’ve been to a number of Ethiopian restaurants, locally and abroad, but it was a first for the kids. It helped that the one we chose — there are quite a few in Joburg now — has décor that is easy on the eye. The music is also good. Incidentally, when we walked in they were playing the British-Nigerian singer Sade, my boyhood crush, as the young people say.
My poor boy Khanyani had a hard time of it. ‘I want a burger,’ he kept saying. His palate is properly Americanised
Being adventurous, I dived into dulet (R80), a combination of diced beef, liver and tripe. As our efficient waitress Ayeom explained, you can have it raw, medium rare or well done. I decided to have it well done. It was very smooth and tender, and oh, the flavours!
Ethiopian food is pleasantly spicy, and the Durban boy in me won’t object to that at all. I had my meat with injera. It has the look and the texture of a pancake, but it is sour.
My daughter Gugu loved her doro wat, a spicy chicken stew (R87). She also had it with injera. My poor boy Khanyani had a hard time of it. He’d ordered mahberawi, a platter of different meats and cheeses (R65). What he found most objectionable was the injera. "This is sour. I want a burger," he kept saying. His palate is properly Americanised.
For the benefit of the kids, I kept up a running commentary on Ethiopian history as we ate. As a fan of reggae, I have read a number of books about the Rastafari religion.
Though Rastafarianism was born in Jamaica, it draws inspiration from the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, who is regarded by Rastas as the incarnation of God.
When Selassie, whose title was Ras Tafari, visited Jamaica in the 1960s he was startled to see people, tears in their eyes, prostrating themselves before him, crying out: "God is here, Yahweh is here!"
As I tucked into the food, I was thinking: yes, God is here.
But bring your own wine, no corkage fee. Their list is disappointingly thin.
289 Fox Street, Maboneng, Johannesburg Tel: 067-705-1057
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