BROADWAY MENU DECODER: Queen Sheba

Ethiopian food is described in Amharic, the ancient language descended from Hebrew. Words like tibbs, berbere and wot are common terms on Ethiopian menus.

 

             Who was Queen Sheba and why is she important to Ethiopia? Sheba had a son with King Solomon. They didn’t marry, but that son, Menelik, grew up to rule Ethiopia. For thousands of years, the male line of Sheba and Solomon, through Menelik, became Ethiopian kings.

The food of Ethiopia is nearly as intact as it was in biblical times. The menu at Queen Sheba restaurant names dishes in iterations of Amharic, the Ethiopian language formed from Hebrew. Certain words gives clues to whether the food was sautéed or stewed, and to the spice mixture in the background.

Hint: No dish in Ethiopia is complete without some configuration of multiple spicing.

 

Injera – griddle cake with steam holes used as an edible plate for food and for tearing into pieces used to grab mouthfuls. Injera is called the Ethiopian fork, spoon and knife.

Wot – Ethiopian stew.

Tibs – Ethiopian sauté or stir-fry.

Berbere – [burr-BEHR-ree, rolling the r’s] firey spice mixtures in most Ethiopian dishes. The hotness and spice ratios vary from cook to cook, but berbera always is based on paprika followed by ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cayenne; sometimes black pepper, cinnamon or cassia.

Awaze – dry berbere mixture moistened with a bit of wine to make a paste. Awaze paste is used in made-to-order sautés, or tibs. Look for Awaze Chicken Tibs, for example.

Axumite – delightful Ethiopian wine, about 11.6% alcohol and fruity like high-quality Lambrusco; named for northern Ethiopia’s ancient ruins in Axum.