I’m afraid, dear readers, that I have come into possession of some rather alarming information. I know that, what with all the bullying from Iran and the suicide bombings and the Hamas government and Avigdor Lieberman, some of you may not have the stomach for more wrenching news from our land. But my job, which I take very seriously, is to serve as a conduit, receiving the news of the world and conveying to you the most noteworthy of it, only in a more profane and misanthropic manner. So it is with a heavy heart and an unflagging sense of duty that I inform you of the latest crisis to befall the Jewish people.
We’re running out of tef.
Spice stores that cater to the Ethiopian community in Israel have felt the recent shortage of tef (Eragrostis tef) grain, the staple of the Ethiopian diet.
The shortage is a result of a recent decision by Ethiopian authorities to cease exporting the grain. Members of the local Ethiopian community believe that the decision came after the Ethiopian government was told Israeli importers are selling tef to Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern enemy.
The grain come from a native Ethiopian annual grass and are ground into flour to make injera, a sourdough flatbread.
Injera lovers report that the shortage has, at best, raised tef prices in shops and, at worst, made it the grain impossible to obtain.
Naftali Abera, an Ethiopian who sells the grain in his spice shop in Nes Tziona, feels lucky: “In December, I received a big shipment and, at the end of January, I found out that Ethiopia had decided without prior notice to stop exporting tef. I heard this from people who called and asked me why I was still selling tef at the regular price, despite the shortage.”
In response, Abera says, he decided to raise his prices: A 50-kilogram sack of tef, which he formerly sold for NIS 260, now costs NIS 350. Abera has a few dozen remaining sacks in his storehouse.
“I am saving these sacks for regular customers. If I had chosen to sell them, I could have moved the entire supply within a week,” Abera says.
The Ethiopian Embassy in Israel denies claims that its government decided to halt tef exports because Israeli importers were supplying to Eritrea, and instead blames the rising price of tef in Ethiopia. Officials say the Ethiopian government is considering requiring a license to export the unusual grain.
I really like injera, acquired taste though it may be, and I find the news of our nation’s rapidly depleting tef supply most alarming. I live upstairs from an Ethiopian dry goods store (called, inconsistently, something I can’t read in Amharic, “Addis Traditional Center” in English and “Addis Center for Spices” in Hebrew) and around the corner from a couple more, so I fully expect to see within the next week crowds of tiny old women with facial tattoos and flowing headscarves battling each other tooth and nail for precious, precious sacks of tef, all from the safe vantage point of my balcony. And as if that wasn’t reason enough to live above an Ethiopian store, they often play Amharic pop loudly enough to filter through the walls of my bathroom, and Amharic pop is basically like Um Kulthum meeting Donna Summer in a club owned by Fela Kuti at 78 RPM, which is even greater than it sounds.
But back to our disappearing injera. Since in a matter of weeks, if the situation holds, tef will be as rare in Israel as decent french fries, I recommend you go out and get some before it’s gone. In particular, I recommend the Jerusalem restaurant Shegar, which is hidden away in a narrow alley that threads between Yafo and Agrippas, presumably to keep away the bane of downtown Jerusalem restaurants, American tourist families (“EXC– USE ME, DO – YOU – TAKE – AMERICAN – DOLLARS?!”). It’s a real Israeli restaurant – unpretentious, cozy, small tables, somewhat random decor, tiny kitchen, and, in the most encouraging sign for an ethnic restaurant, full of real Ethiopians, huddled around bottles of Goldstar intently watching Ethiopian music videos. It’s kosher according to Ethiopian minhag (one dish mixes chicken and butter) and lacks a teudah from the rabbanut, which makes the restaurant at all times blissfully free from Anglo yeshiva students and Charedim. Go up the small staircase to the second level and get a table under the mural of the Ethiopian countryside and paintings of plumed Ethiopian warriors and order a Meta or a Kedus Giorgis, because of course you can’t appreciate a country’s cuisine unless you’ve tried its beer (it’s not bad, a little sweeter than most beers). As far as food goes, well, I’m vegetarian so I’ve never tried the meat dishes, but most of my meateater friends have grudgingly admitted that the vegetarian options are yummier. Basically, on the veggie side, you have your choice between two kinds of wat (stew), shiro (lentil) and misr (chickpeas), and alicha, which is potatoes and other goodies spiced a bright yellow – all the dishes are flavorful, mildly spicy and, best of all, really cheap (20 shekels). The meat dishes tend to be a mixture of beef and oil and spices, which doesn’t always go over well. They come with a platter of injera, and the idea is to tear off chunks of injera and dip them into the wat with one hand and sort of roll it into a tube and stuff it into your mouth. No, you priss, they don’t have silverware. It’s not much different from the Israeli hummusiya experience, except you run a higher risk of dropping wat in your lap if you’re not deft. The service is generally pretty prompt, and even though you are most decidedly on Ethiopian turf, they’re all nice as hell. And sometimes they have a hot waitress. So seriously, go, before there’s no more injera to be had in all of Israel.
Oh, and a note to you people who have Bob Marley’s “Legend” and think you’re terribly clever – if you walk in and feel inspired by the red, gold and green color scheme and paintings that say “Ethiopia” to say anything along the lines of “Rastafari!” or, even worse, “Selassie!”, you will get punched, and you will deserve it. Listen to the Amharic pop, eat your injera and shut up.