World, Life

Ethiopia's love affair with raw meat

Historians trace raw meat eating back to the early 16th century

11.09.2014
Ethiopia's love affair with raw meat

Seleshi Tessema

ADDIS ABABA

Delicious. Reinvigorating. And distinctively Ethiopian.

These are qualities that keep Ethiopians loyal to their most delectable raw-meat cuisine – regardless of the health risks.

Ethiopians at home and abroad eat raw beef and goat meat.

In Addis Ababa, the bustling metropolis of nearly 3.5 million, raw meat lovers flock to butcher shops that serve raw meat any time of day.

"But their most preferred time is lunch," Tsegaye Ayenew, who owns a butchery in Piazza in the heart of Addis Ababa, where many meat shops are located, told Anadolu Agency.

"On holidays, they come all the day; it will be time for a market bonanza," he said, adding that customers were of all ages and backgrounds.

"We sell a kilogram of raw beef for $6 while some may sell for $10," Ayenew said.

He added that once customers decide on their preference, the butcher dexterously cuts the fresh meat – which often arrives in the evening – into pieces.

Raw meat dishes usually include slices of Injera, Ethiopian bread made from teff flour, and sausage.

Ethiopians will usually dip every chunk of meat into Mitmita – a powdered hot chili mixed with spices or Awaze, a kind of chili paste.

Then the meat will be wrapped in Injera and eaten, accompanied by wine, beer or soda.

-Refreshing-

Etaferahu Abebe, a 33-year-old program officer at a local NGO, was eating a raw beef lunch with her two brothers.

"When we are tired of our daily routines, we retreat to raw meat," she told AA. "It furnishes our body, reinvigorates and refreshes us."

When asked about the dietary consequences of such food, Abebe's face contracted.

"That does not niggle us," she said.

Dr. Mesafint Abebe, who runs a private clinic in Addis Ababa, says raw meat lovers often make the same argument.

"Most of my patients diagnosed with health consequences of their food habit overemphasize the nutritional values of meat and deny its health consequences," he told AA.

He said patients who were diagnosed and treated usually return to the clinic later complaining of the same ailments.

"It is a vicious circle – they are content with their devil-may-care attitude," added the doctor. "This is how the raw meat habit is sustained."

But Ethiopians' love affair with raw beef has cultural roots, according to scholars.

Solomon Tessema, associate professor of art and language at Addis Ababa University, believes that in classical and contemporary Ethiopian art and music, eating raw meat is socially acceptable.

"The very habit denotes a social class, belonging to higher-up or well-to-do; it is also a proof for coming-of-age maturity," he told AA.

Richard Pankhurst, an authority on Ethiopian history, traces raw meat eating back to the early 16th century.

Mekuria Mekasha, associate professor of journalism at the same university, describes the habit as "a vehicle of cultural group communication of oneness."

"For centuries, raw meat has been consumed by all ethnic groups and followers of all faiths," Mekasha told AA. "It is a transcendental national dish."

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