The Etiquette of Eating in Ethiopia

-It is an honor to be invited to a person’s home. Guests should dress well for the occasion.

-Shoes should be removed at the door.

-The hand of each same-gender guest should be shaken. A gentleman should shake the hand of any lady who extends hers to him.

-Female guests are expected to offer to help the host/hostess in preparation/clean-up of the meal.

-Before the meal is served, a pitcher and basin will be presented. A guest should wash his hands over the basin as the water is being poured from the pitcher.

-When invited out to dinner, it is insulting to the host to offer to pay. (Ethiopians are generous people, tending to give abundantly even to those who are more fortunate than they).

-Traditional Ethiopian meals are served on mats on the floor, with guests sitting on pillows and/or the mats.

-Food is served on communal platters from which each guest partakes.

-The eldest guest takes first from the communal platter.

-Only the right hand should be used in eating. Torn-off portions of the traditional flat bread called “injera” are used to pick up food from the communal dishes in order to convey the food to the mouth.

-“Gursa” is central to Ethiopian dining. Gursa is the process by which guests are hand-fed, directly into the mouth, by adjacent diners. The person simply takes a morsel with his right hand (the same hand with which he was conveying food directly into his own mouth) and places it delicately into the mouth of another diner. The intimate gesture of gursa is regarded as one of respect and should be graciously and humbly accepted.

-A guest should be prepared to be offered more food. And he should be prepared to accept the offer.

-At the end of the meal, a basin and pitcher will be provided for guests to wash their hands. A gentleman should wash his hands over the basin as the water is being poured.

-Coffee is the national drink of Ethiopia, and it is served and drunk with ceremony. The entire process requires at least one hour. Seated on pillows or an a grass-and-flower-strewn floor with frankincense perfuming the air, coffee is served. Beans are washed, roasted, then ground in front of guests. Typically, the person presiding over the coffee ritual is a young lady who has been groomed for years in the intricacies of the ceremony.

-Sugar will be placed into the coffee cup, then coffee and water are poured over the sugar. (The coffee pot is called a “Jebena.”) In some rural homes, coffee is served with salt instead of sugar.

-The guest-of-honor or the eldest person is served first.

-The coffee should first be inhaled, then sipped slowly.

-Three rounds of coffee are traditionally served, each more diluted than the previous: “abol” (also “awol”); “tona”; and “baraka,” which means “to be blessed.” The three cups of coffee are believed to symbolize a progressive spiritual transformation.

-Do not refuse coffee—unless for medical or religions reasons, for example.

-A guest invited to a coffee ceremony (which, in some families, occurs up to three times per day) should present the host/hostess with a simple gift—such as sugar, pastries, or candies.


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