injera.jpgI’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.

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  • This is simply terrible. Nay, an abomination before G-d and man.

  • I heart Fela Kuti.
    I don’t understand. The price of tef goes up so they stop exporting? Does someone have an economic explanation for that? Have they stopped exporting it altogether or just to Israel? And isn’t there tef in Eritrea also?

  • Well, I’m no economist, but I guess, assuming the Ethiopians really aren’t doing this out of political spite, that the price of tef went up because the supply went down. Maybe a bad harvest or something. And if the supply is diminished, logically they would limit exports in order to keep their own people fed. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it makes sense at least.

    Eritrea, for its part, usually doesn’t have enough food to feed itself, so I doubt they’re exporting much.

    And, of course, Fela Kuti shall eternally reign over the Kalakuta Republic.

  • Call me cynical, but I would think they would just sell at higher prices. As for Eritrea not having enough food, makes sense, but I thought the same was still true of Ethiopia. Go figure.

    I wonder what’s become of the Kalakuta Republic. When I was little I always wanted to declare my own country. What a badass.

  • Well, since the Kalakuta Republic consisted of a one house Bantustan, I imagine it’s either been officially annexed and absorbed by surrounding Nigeria, or destroyed by the forces of imperialism.

  • I don’t understand. The price of tef goes up so they stop exporting?

    No — they stop exporting so the price of tef goes up.

  • Meles Zanawe can always be counted on to do wrong: from getting supporters of his sworn enemies(the opposition) shot; to cutting exports to a country that deals with his sworner enemies, it’s all in character for him.I wonder why the Eritreans just grow their own tef? They should have climatic condtions fairly similar to the ethipians!

    Fela Kuti was the man! Femi Kuti is also very good.

  • You can never avoid Americans in Jerusalem no matter what you do.
    I did notice the rambunctious and dastardly comment about American Frum persons and this should not be allowed. If someone said the same thing about Meretz supporters, your panties would be all aflutter.

  • Mahmoud Ahmed rocks! And Fela’s ok, but Dr. Ganja, Orlando Owoh, is Nigeria’s greatest musical export.

  • Joy, I’m not keen on Afropop that’s based too closely on foreign models. E.g., bought a recent re-release of a pair of Geraldo Pena albums– he was a Fela influence in Sierra Leone in the ’60s-’70s– thought him a James Brown wannabe.

    Guess I’m stuck in a highlife/juju time warp– Owoh, Ebenezer Obey, (early) Sunny Ade, etc.

    But the Ethiopian stuff– wow. The ‘Ethiopiques’ series (Buda Music) is a treasure, esp. the Ahmed cds (Vols. 6, 7, 18).

  • Interesting side note:

    Haile Sellasie — the messiah/god of the rastafarians, was a devout ethiopian orthodox Christian who apparently once commented on the need to send someone to Jamaica to, um…, clarify things for the rastas.

  • That’s not quite the whole story. While Haile Selassie denied his godly status, he granted a portion of his personal land to Rastafarian immigrants to Ethiopia (whom the Ethiopians hate), and made a state visit to Jamaica in the late 1960s, where tens of thousands of Rastas turned out on the tarmac to welcome his plane. He was terrified and refused to come out until Rasta elder Mortimer Planno calmed the crowd down and coaxed him out. In any case, Rastafari suffered no significant theological issues from either Selassie’s claim that he wasn’t divine or his death. Much like Chabadniks, they can easily explain away any evidence which counters their own preformed opinions. And of course, the roots of Rastafari predate Selassie.

    But of course, the reason I mentioned Selassie is that most Ethiopians have no love for him, since he was something of a brutal tyrant.

    Jobber: while I appreciate the fact that you’ve invested in a thesaurus and your clumsy attempts to box me into a neat political box, I’m not a Meretz supporter and, as such, I enthusiastically encourage you to bite me.

  • Selassie was indeed a tyrant, whose regime exercised strict censorship over culture– including music. Popular and folk music were not permitted to be recorded until very late in his reign (late ’60s- early ’70s). After his departure, the Dergue, the military dictatorship, reimposed strict control over all forms of artistic expression.

  • Does anyone know of kosher Ethiopian restaurants in Jerusalem? I loved ethiopian before I was frum, and now that I’m in a place with kosher keeping Ethiopians I thought I’d find some grub, but I’m at a loss… any help?

  • To all you fake, wish you were isralites ras claats condeming rasta and selah, do you honestly think the people running Israel today are not brutes and tyrants? the rest of the world can see it, you dont swallow critizism well. What makes you think you are the chosen?….time will tell also by your fruits, which are rotten already. The oppressed have become the oppressors. Praise to sellasie and Rasta for giving the true downpressed Israelites all around the world hope. You fakes and pretenders will burn in your own fire word is bond. The brutish Israel of today is false, It should br called Notrael.