12 Popular Ethiopian New Year Foods and Drinks Served on Enkutatash, 2021 (2014 E.C.)
The Ethiopian New Year – also known as Enkutatash in Amharic, the country’s official language — is one of the most important public holidays in Ethiopia, where all Ethiopians, irrespective of their ethnicities or religion, celebrate it widely across the country.
Enkutatash is celebrated on the 1st of Meskerem — the first day in the Ethiopian Calendar. Ethiopia follows a 13-month calendar similar to many other countries that primarily practice Eastern Orthodox Christianity, trailing the western calendar by seven years and eight months.
On the Ethiopian calendar, each of the 12 months has 30 days, while the 13th month called Pagume has five days (which becomes six on a Leap-Year). On the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopian New year falls on the 11th of September (or, during a leap year, 12 September).
Presently, the country is celebrating the arrival of the year 2014 on the 11th of September 2021.
History of Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year
The Ethiopian New Year marks the end of the three-month rainy season in Ethiopia, where the cherished bright autumn days return to the highland nation and the sun shines over the vast Ethiopian landscape that is covered with bright yellow flowers called Adey Abeba.
However, the word Enkutatash is heavy with symbolism. It not only marks the cherished change in seasons but has a historic and religious significance, especially to the majority of Ethiopians that are followers of Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Christianity.
Moreover, the Ethiopian New Year is also known as Enkutatash is widely believed to be derived from the story of the Queen of Sheba, where the word Enkutatash translates to ‘gift of jewels’. As the story goes, Queen Sheba travels to Jerusalem to visit the wise King Solomon bearing him several gifts including gold and spices. In return, the king rewarded her with plenty of precious stones and jewels (Enku).
Upon her return to Ethiopia in 980 BC, the people were believed to have celebrated her homecoming – where her chiefs showered her with even more jewels, precious stones, and a large quantity of treasury gold, while the children gave her bouquets of yellow daisies (Adey Abeba) singing the phrase Enku-le-tatash meaning gifts of gems and jewels for your troubles and to help you to cover the costs of your trip. Over time, the Amharic letter ‘ለ’ (the prefix le-) was dropped and the name was shortened into Enkutatash.
Enkutatash is also observed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with additional versions and highly ceremonial activities to honor Kidus Yohannes (St. John the Baptist) for his beheading. The festival is marked with special emphasis at the Entoto Raguel Church at the top of Entoto Mountain, north of Addis Ababa. As the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church teaching God authorized the Angel on this day to observe every activity undertaken by God.
All in all, for Ethiopians, the Ethiopian New Year or Enkutatash has several layers of meaning and deep-rooted importance. Hence, when Meskerem comes, it is the time of blissful happiness and relief. The safe transition from the rainy season to the breathtaking bright Meskerem is symbolic of the passage from an awe-inspiring night into a beautiful morning. Thus, the festival instills a glimmer of hope in the heart and minds of Ethiopians and it symbolizes new hope, a fresh start, and prosperity for the New Year.
Celebrating Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year
Steeped in the traditions of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, celebrations start on the eve of Enkutatash, on which most families attend a church service and offer prayers ushering in the new year. New Year church programs start sometime after midnight on the eve and last into the next morning.
However, despite its religious connotations and history, Enkutatash is not an exclusively religious holiday. Celebrated by believers and non-believers alike, this time of year is seen as a period for community and family, a time when we forget the grievances and embrace a collective shared experience. The New Year brings extended families together to attend a series of events that typically last an entire week.
In the evenings of New Year’s Eve, Ethiopians light wooden torches — known as Chibo in Amharic — to symbolize the coming of the new season of sunshine now that the rain season comes to its end. The family dances in a circle around the fire and sings happy songs whilst wishing each other well for the New Year. At the end, when the fire dies a little, everyone jumps three times over the pit, to leave the old year behind and welcome the New Year.
In the early mornings of the New Year, it’s a tradition to slaughter either chicken, sheep, goat, or cattle that have been purchased the previous day. Often, a community or a village will pool money to slaughter a cow in the group, while each household can choose to slaughter a less expensive sheep.
The preparations for the Ethiopian New year are an affair that involves the whole family. Usually, the man of the house is responsible for slaughtering the animals. Then the women take over preparing the meat immediately in order to complete preparations by lunchtime. While the food is being prepared, the house is also being prepared to receive guests by lighting incense and decorating the house with fresh, long, green grass cut from a nearby field or bought from the market and spread out on the floor of the house.
Enkutatash is also a special day for children. The girls gather in groups and go from house to house singing and clapping their hearts out to a traditional song called Abebayehosh meaning “I see flowers”. As a token of appreciation, people usually respond with money or bread prepared for the holidays. In return, expect to receive heartwarming praises from the kids, wishing you more riches and good fortune for the coming year.
In the meantime, while the girls are out singing and clapping their hearts out, the boys are making beautiful handmade drawings that symbolize the arrival of spring as well as paintings of saints, which they then go from house to house handing out their works of art on the morning of the holiday to relatives, neighbors, and friends.
Following all the preparations made in the mornings; families, friends, and neighbors all gather together by lunchtime.
Lunch is served after 12pm, during which Injera – the ubiquitous Ethiopian flatbread is served together with various other dishes. Typically, the most popular dishes to be served during this time are Doro Wot – a spicy chicken stew, and Dulet – a combination of minced beef, liver, and lamb tripe.
After lunch, when everyone’s full and lounging about, it’s time to cut the big round bread known as Difo Dabo. In most cases, this is performed after everyone stands up for prayers. The oldest man of the house cuts the bread and everyone gets a piece. This is followed by Ethiopia’s world-renown coffee ceremony.
The Coffee Ceremony is an integral part of the Ethiopian New Year’s celebration. The ritual of coffee serving and drinking, which can last for hours, is an important social occasion offering a reunion for relatives and friends and a chance to discuss community matters while enjoying a jolting cup of fresh Ethiopian coffee. No doubt, being invited to a coffee ceremony in an Ethiopian family is a sign of great respect.
During the evenings, people start enjoying lashings of the traditional honey-based wine known as Tej, or Araki, a strong homemade liquor that is typically made from grapes and aniseed. As nighttime approaches, families gather and begin building a bonfire, which is lit once night descents. From here celebrations are held all night long and end at sunrise.
Popular Ethiopian New Year Foods Served During Enkutatash Celebrations
Similar to several other cultural celebrations from around the world, food plays an integral part in the celebration of Enkutatash. Here are some of the most popular dishes that you will commonly be served during the days of celebration of Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year.
The iconic, spongy, slightly sour flatbread known as Injera serves as the core component of most Ethiopian dishes, both during the holiday seasons as well as any other day of the year. Injera is made from Teff, a grain widely cultivated and used in Ethiopia, is a super-grain that is high in protein and calcium, it is gluten-free.
Injera is not a meal on its own, however. It is served along with the other core component of the Ethiopian dish known as Wot, which is a thick stew that comes within various forms as it can be made out of beef, lamb, vegetables, and various types of legumes, such as lentils. These two are almost always served together.
2. Doro Wot
One of the great Ethiopian dishes, Doro Wot (chicken stew), is made with the mixture of the omnipresent Berbere, a heavy load of Niter Kibbeh (Ethiopian clarified butter), chicken parts, eggs, and onions. The sauce is mostly made from onions that have been stewed down for so long, they disintegrate into a puree. The chicken comes dripping with juices and the egg is caked in flavor.
In Ethiopia, Doro Wot is the go-to meal of celebration during national and religious festivals. And because it takes a long time to make, it is often only served during these holidays and on special occasions.
Cubes of meat (beef, lamb, or goat) stir-fried with onions, peppers, and other vegetables in Niter Kibbeh. Quite often, twigs of rosemary or other herbs are added to it. Tibs can also be served spicy with some Berbere sprinkled on.
Tibs is served in a variety of manners and can range from hot to mild or contain little to no vegetables. There are many variations of the delicacy, depending on the type, size, or shape of the cuts of meat used. Beef, mutton, and goat are the most common meats used in the preparation of tibs.
Another distinctively Ethiopian dish, Kitfo is minced lean beef meat marinated in Mitmita and Niter Kibbeh. It is usually reserved for special occasions in Ethiopia.
The quality of the meat is the key to good Kitfo and, when done right, it should pretty much dissolve on the tongue. It’s usually served with Ayib, a soft creamy cheese, and sautéed greens.
Kitfo can be served well cooked, semi-cooked (leb-leb), or raw, as per your preference.
5. Tere Siga (Q’wirt)
This dish is not for the faint-hearted. Tere Siga directly translates to ‘raw meat’ in Amharic, and that is exactly what it is. It is, however, a popular delicacy in Ethiopia, and it is served in cubes or in long, fleshy strips of beef meat known as Gored Gored.
Tere Siga is a dish reserved for important celebrations, and it is a usually communal meal that is shared with two or more people. It is customarily eaten with injera used to hold on to the cubes of meat, and ‘mitmita’, a traditional powdered seasoning mix.
Unlike most Ethiopian dishes, Tere Siga comes with cutlery – a sharp knife that is used to cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. The cutting of the meat has its own technique that is practiced by all seasoned Tere Siga enthusiasts.
A popular theory on how Ethiopians developed the habit of eating Tere Siga is that during wartime encampments sometime in the 16th century, soldiers would hunt during the day and eat the meats raw at night so that they could avoid detection by not having to start fires to cook their meat.
It goes without saying that you should always be careful when eating raw (uncooked) meat as it could cause illness, most notably, tapeworms and salmonella.
Dulet is prepared from a combination of minced tripe (the animal’s stomach lining), along with liver and lean beef fried in butter, onions, chili, cardamom, and pepper. Dulet is sometimes served raw, but it’s mostly consumed after being cooked.
In the morning of Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year, while the preparations for the celebration is underway, the hungry ones can nibble on Genfo, also known as Ga’at – a very smooth, stiff porridge formed in a round shape dome with a hole in the middle that keeps red and spicy sauce which you dip your porridge in.
Genfo is often made by adding dry-roasted barley flour or cornmeal to boiling water and stirring the concoction with a wooden utensil until it develops a smooth, yet extremely thick consistency.
Popular Ethiopian New Year Snacks
Fendisha is the Ethiopian name for popcorn, apparently, a popular snack celebrated across the world. In Ethiopia, however, Fendisha has a unique place in the heart of the people not as a snack to munch on while watching a movie, but as one of the most important parts of the beloved Ethiopian coffee ceremony, where it is served to guests while they wait for the coffees.
9. Difo Dabo
Difo Dabo is a variation of the basic Dabo that differs from regular Dabo because, when it’s being baked, the dough is wrapped in a large green leaf of the Enset (false banana) tree, known in Ethiopia as Koba Kitel.
Popular Ethiopian New Year Drinks
Buna is Amharic for coffee, and if you are a coffee lover, you should probably know that coffee originated from Ethiopia. Buna is a revered drink in Ethiopia that is an integral part of social life in the country. It is also very important to the Ethiopian economy as it is a major source of foreign exchange and a source of income to around 15% of the population.
Tej, is a potent honey wine or mead that is brewed and widely consumed in much of Ethiopia. It is prepared from honey and a green herb called Gesho, a very important additive in almost all of the alcoholic drinks of Ethiopia. Tej comes in varying degrees of sweetness that deceptively masks the high alcohol content of the drink. It is typically served in a rounded vase-like or beaker-like glass container called a Berele, but if you are new to the drink one Berele may be too much.
Just like any other wine, Tej can be stored for a long time; and the longer it is stored, the higher the alcohol content, and the stronger the taste.
Areki is a strong homemade liquor that is typically made from Gesho leaves, grapes, and aniseed. It is essentially the Ethiopian version of moonshine with an alcohol level of around 45%. Areki is quite a popular drink around holidays such as the Ethiopian New Year, as it helps with indigestion after all the heavy meals eaten throughout the day.
The Ethiopian New Year is one of the best times to experience the ancient and glorious country of Ethiopia. However, if you are not in Ethiopia, feel free to join the festivities at the local Ethiopian Restaurant, or make some Ethiopian food dishes by yourself by following one of the many detailed Recipes here on the Ethiopian Food Guide platform.
So, which one of the dishes would like to try? Do you have any favorites? Do you have any Enkutatash or Ethiopian New Year stories? Please let us know in the comments and share your experience with the community.
In the meantime, we wish you a Happy Ethiopian New Year! Enkuan Aderesachihu! Melkam Addis Amet!
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